Table of Contents: “Front matter” vs. “back matter”

My topic today is the Table of Contents.

What goes into a Table of Contents?

The short answer is: everything that follows it and nothing that precedes it.

The Table of Contents lists all the major divisions in the document: sections and chapters and perhaps the main headings within the chapters.

What I want to focus on today, however, is the other material in the document—which may appear either before or after the text. This includes such things as: a list of illustrations, an appendix, and an index—to name just some.

If you have any of those items in your document, where do you fit them in? Here are some guidelines on their proper placement. Whether you’re composing your own book or editing someone else’s document, this will be helpful information to know.

This “extra” material is called the front or back matter (depending on whether it comes before or after the text). Chicago* gives us the following outline on the order in which they should occur (of course not every document will include all of the items):

Front matter
Title page
Copyright page
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Foreword (by someone other than the author)
Preface (by the author)
Acknowledgments (or in back matter)
Abbreviations (or in back matter)

Back matter
Acknowledgments (or in front matter)
Appendix (or several appendices – numbered A, B, C, etc.)
Abbreviations (or in front matter)

(Note that Acknowledgments and Abbreviations may come either before or after the text.)

Two points to remember:

1. Front matter is usually numbered with small roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc.). The text itself is numbered using arabic numerals (our “regular” numbers: 1, 2, 3, etc.) starting with page 1. Like the text, back matter is numbered with arabic numerals and continues numbering where the text leaves off.

There’s actually a logical explanation for this system of numbering. Often, front matter has to be added late in the publishing process. By having the text start with number 1, the publisher won’t have to renumber all the pages when adding something to the front matter.

2. As I mentioned earlier, the Table of Contents includes everything that follows it and nothing that precedes it. Thus, in the Table of Contents you would not mention the title page or the dedication (nor the Table of Contents itself!).

Before you go, let’s have an open book quiz. For this exercise, you will need to refer to the dictionary that I edited recently for SIL: A Comprehensive Comparison of Lexemes in the Major Languages of Tanna, Vanuatu.

The URL is:

Answer these questions based on this dictionary. (I’ve provided the answers at the end of this post.)

1. Go to the Table of Contents in the dictionary by clicking on Contents in the left panel. How many items are included in the front matter?

2. On what page is the section called Acknowledgments? Where else could this section have been placed?

3. Is the list of Abbreviations included in the front matter or in the back matter?

4. Is the list of Illustrations (“Map, Tables of Figure”) placed according to the guidelines above? Where would Chicago have placed it?

5. On what page does chapter 1 begin?

6. On what page is the list of References?

7. Do the items in the back matter follow the sequence described above?

8. How many pages does the front matter have? What about the back matter?

See answers below.


Image at top courtesy of Free Digital Photos. Please be advised to use discretion with this website.

*Chicago=The Chicago Manual of Style


1. The front matter contains three items: (1) Acknowledgments, (2) Abstract, and (3) Map, Tables, and Figure (which could have been called simply “Illustrations”)

2. Acknowledgments is on page v. It could also have been placed right after the text, before Appendix A, on page 251.

3. The list of Abbreviations is in the back matter.

4. According to Chicago‘s guidelines, the list of Illustrations (“Map, Tables, and Figure”) should have been placed right after the Table of Contents, before the Acknowledgments.

5. Chapter 1 begins on page 1.

6. The list of References is on page 256.

7. The order for the back matter follows Chicago’s guidelines. The order is: Appendix A, B, C; Abbreviations; References; Contributors.

8. The front matter has seven pages: pages i–vii. The back matter has eight pages: pages 251–258.

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1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Rebecca Francis Consulting and commented:
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