1 The parts of a book

1.1 General principles

A book usually consists of three sections: preliminary matter (also called prelims or front matter), the main text, and end matter. All books have some kind of prelims, all have a text, and most works of non-fiction have end matter. The prelims and end matter usually contain a number of items or sections, subject to a given order and to conventions that control their presentation.

In discussing the parts of a printed book the following terms are used:

  • spread or double-page spread—the pair of pages (left-hand and right-hand) exposed when the book is opened at random; the term opening is also used. The terms are sometimes distinguished, with a ‘spread’ being a pair of pages that are designed as an entity, for example in a highly illustrated book, and an ‘opening’ being any pair of facing pages.

  • recto—the right-hand page of a spread: a recto always has an odd page number.

  • verso—the left-hand page of a spread: a verso always has an even page number.

The recto is regarded as the ‘more important’ of the two pages of a spread. The main text always begins on a recto, and in a book divided into parts (Part I, Part II, etc.) a new part begins on a fresh recto, even though the preceding page may be blank. The design of a book may require that a new chapter begin on a fresh recto. The main items or sections in the prelims customarily begin on a fresh recto.

Readers of ebooks and other nonprint materials are often able to adjust the display of text to their preferences, and consequently the concepts of double-page spreads, rectos, and versos are not as meaningful in digital contexts. Publishers and authors need to consider carefully how material that depends on highly designed spreads in print will transfer to nonprint publication.


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