How books are structured

How books are structured

Editorial team Published on 6/9/2023

Contrary to appearances, a book it not a simple object, as anyone who has ever tried to produce one will tell you.

A thriller, atlas, comic, textbook, poetry collection – if you take any one of these books and flick through it, you’ll soon realise that there are recurring elements: a table of contents, title page, colophon and so on and so forth. As well as the actual contents – the creative part, in other words – the internal structure of a book comprises many different parts.

Though the names of these elements may be familiar – such as the contents or title page, for example – their meaning and purpose may not be.

Today, we’re going to explain – simply and succinctly – all the constituent parts of a book. Afterwards, you should be able to structure a book properly in various scenarios: for example, if you are tasked with the graphic design for a publication or, say, you want to self-publish your own work.

A simple but important concept: paratext

To understand the structure of a book – and here we’re focusing on its internal structure – we must first familiarise ourselves with a key concept: paratext. Paratext is everything that surrounds the content proper of a book. The prefix “para” (from the ancient Greek παρά) means “beside”.

The internal structure of a book
The internal structure of a book

The paratext comprises a series of very important elements, including the title, author(s), table of contents, chapter titles, colophon and half-title. Some of these are pretty much mandatory for any publication, while others may or may not be included in a book’s structure.

We’re going to look at each of these paratextual elements – and others – one by one.

Who decides on which of these elements to include – and where – in the structure of a book? Publishing houses usually have dedicated staff for this. But if you’re planning to self-publish or have to lay out a book yourself, it’s useful to have a rough idea of how a book is put together.

Let’s take a closer look!

After the cover: the first parts of a book’s internal structure

A fun and easy way to understand a book’s structure is to look at how the books you have at home are put together. Take four or five titles from your bookshelf or go to the nearest library. Now open them.

The elements that you’ll encounter straight after the cover are more or less standard, with little variation. They are as follows:

  • Half-title
  • Title page
  • Colophon
  • Dedication
  • Epigraph
  • Preface, foreword or introduction

Where exactly does the title page go? And what should the colophon include? Let’s take a look at all these elements of a book’s structure in a bit more detail.

The structure of a book: the initial parts
The structure of a book: the initial parts


If there is one, the half-title will be the first page you see after the cover and before the title page. Generally, it’s a white, odd-numbered page that carries just the book’s title (with no mention of the author or publisher).

In some cases, the half-title – also known as the bastard title – features the series name instead.

Title page

The title page usually has just three elements, so it’s hard to go wrong:

  • The name of the author
  • The name of the book
  • The publisher
The title page in the structure of a boo
The title page of book published by Laterza

Once upon a time, title pages were far more elaborate and embellished with illustrations and further information about the book’s printing. But in modern publications, the decorative aspects have moved to the cover, while the other information is now found on the colophon.


Traditionally, the colophon carries details of the printer and the place and date of printing.

But nowadays, it is also where you’ll find the ISBN, copyright information, and – if it’s a translation – the original title. The colophon will also usually tell you who the typesetter, cover designer, printer, and publisher are.

Lastly, if it’s a reprint, the date of the both the first edition and the current edition will be given.

But where does the colophon fit into the overall structure of a book? You will generally find the colophon in one of two places: on the back of the title page or at the end of the book.

The structure of a book: colophon and dedication
The colophon for the book “I narratori delle pianure” by Gianni Celati, published by Feltrinelli. The dedication is opposite. The colophon is found on the back of the title page.


A dedication is brief sentence dedicating the book to one or more people dear to the author. It is usually found after the title page and colophon, and before the epigraph.


As you’ve no doubt noticed, the first chapter is sometimes preceded by an aphorism or quotation that the author believes to be particularly pertinent.

This is called the epigraph.

Preface, foreword or introduction

Before the first chapter, a book may have one of a number of different sections, all of which are slightly different. A foreword is a short text written by somebody other than the author, such as another writer, a critic or a celebrity. Usually, the foreword sets the book in a wider context. A preface, on the other hand, is written by the author themselves and usually explains their reasons for writing the book. An introduction, on the other hand, outlines the subjects that will be covered in the rest of the book.

The foreword and introduction usually round out the first part of a book. After the introduction comes the main content of the book, regardless of whether it’s a textbook or novel.

The sections at the back of a book

A whole series of different sections can be found at the back of a book. They are not always necessary and their position can vary depending on a number of factors.

  • Afterword
  • Contents
  • Index
  • List of abbreviations or acronyms
  • Glossary
  • Timeline
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Notes

Let’s take a look at some of the most common elements.


The table of contents (or simply contents) is a list of the different chapters of a book and their corresponding page numbers. It is usually found at the front of the book between the title page and the introduction or first chapter.

The structure of a book: the contents
The table of contents for “Come si scrive” by Maria Teresa Serafini, published by Bompiani.


The index is always found at the back of a book. It’s an alphabetically ordered list of names, places, ideas and events mentioned in the text. The index helps readers to navigate to the parts of a book that cover a given subject.

List of abbreviations or acronyms

The list of abbreviations is a section that is sometimes found in non-fiction titles, textbooks and guides.

It’s an alphabetical list of all the abbreviations and acronyms used in a book, and usually includes an explanation of each.

In dissertations, the list of abbreviations is usually placed at the beginning of the document, just after the table of contents.

La estructura de un libro: ¿cómo funciona?


The glossary is an alphabetical list of technical terms and their meanings. It is found at the end of a book.

Do all books need a glossary? Of course not. A glossary is only necessary when a book contains lots of terms that are unfamiliar to a layperson, such as a textbook or academic text. From time to time you may see one in a novel or collection of short stories if, for example, the text uses lots of dialect or slang.

That wraps up our overview of how a book is structured. Now you’re ready to lay out and print your own book!