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I'm working on a specific subject, and I thought that sharing my bibliographical and synthesis work from peer-reviewed journals on Wikipedia could be a good idea. Moreover, there is no Wikipedia entry on that subject.

But as I will use that work for my PhD thesis, is this problematic because someone might think that I have plagiarised the material from Wikipedia?

Note that this question could apply to any similar collaborative encyclopedia, not just to Wikipedia, and that the article I'm writing is subject to collaborative change.

Edit : by synthesis work I do not mean :

combine material from multiple sources to reach or imply a conclusion not explicitly stated by any of the sources


reduce the information in lengthy sources to an encyclopedic length

More information on Wikipedias SYNTH policies and here

Also the question is related to sharing my bibliographical work on a collaborative platform, regardless to the platform policy (assuming I can), and potential problems re-using it afterwards, in a PhD thesis.

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Just to be sure. You are researching something. First, you would post a Wikipedia article about that. Then, you would use some of that text (written by you) in your PhD thesis. And, your question is "is this self-plagiarism?". Did I get that correctly? –  dgraziotin Jun 23 '14 at 11:06
@FeralOink: Reading the question again, it even seems to me more like the OP's situation is as follows: The topical overview has been published in peer-reviewed journals. The OP has then, or wants to, re-write that same information in a way (e.g. structure of explanations, cross-links) suitable for WP (i.e. not performing any original research for WP). Then, the OP plans to take over the conceptually same contents once again for their PhD thesis, while using more or less the same text as in the WP article. If that is correct, any discussion about original research on WP is beside the point. –  O. R. Mapper Jun 24 '14 at 14:02
@FeralOink A PhD thesis must contain original work. It should also place this original work within the body of previous work, which is usually done in the form of an introductory chapter summarizing the literature. While the original work often (also) ends up published in the form of a peer reviewed paper (or several), the introduction usually doesn't, even if a significant amount of effort was put into it (i.e., more than the stereotypical "this problem was also considered in [1,2,5-25]" in a paper). –  Christian Clason Jun 24 '14 at 15:00
(cont.) This is why PhD theses often make excellent reading when getting into a new field -- and why (if the topic is of significant general interest) having such a summary of the field would be of great benefit, both for people interested in the topic (even if the thesis is online, the text is much more discoverable on Wikipedia) and Wikipedia in general (carefully crafted content by an expert). As far as I understand, OP is only talking about this summary of previously published research. –  Christian Clason Jun 24 '14 at 15:03
@FeralOink Also, this question is purely about the academic side of things ("how will this affect the evaluation of my thesis"), which is an interesting question no matter what Wikipedia's policy is. Although it goes without saying (as your strong feelings have hopefully driven home) that such a large edit should first be brought up on the corresponding talk page, where the Wikicommunity is in a much better position to judge the appropriateness (and suggest improvements) than in this comment thread. –  Christian Clason Jun 24 '14 at 15:15

5 Answers 5

up vote 37 down vote accepted

No, but make sure you cite it and mention it, to avoid being accused of copying and pasting from Wikipedia.

In any case, it is great that you have contributed to Wikipedia and I wish more people considered using pieces of their introductory chapters for Wikipedia. Just make sure that people know that you copied to, not from, Wikipedia. (I mean, the order is irrelevant, i.e. whether you first wrote text for Wikipedia or your thesis, but the authorship is.)

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"I mean, the order is irrelevant, i.e. whether you first wrote text for Wikipedia or your thesis, but the authorship is." The order is not irrelevant. As bsg points out, Wikipedia doesn't want original research. Posting a summary of thesis content after it's been made public and peer-reviewed is fine, but the other way round is not. –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 '14 at 1:18
@JoshuaTaylor How are the policies of Wikipedia at all relevant here? The OP is asking about the potential consequences on the evaluation of his thesis, not about whether it would fit on Wikipedia. He has also stated that Wikipedia was just named as an example and that this is not "new knowledge". –  Tobias Kildetoft Jun 24 '14 at 7:06
@JoshuaTaylor OP ask about "bibliographical and synthesis work", not original research. But anyway, my answer on order is not wrt to Wikipedia policy (which would require more details on the exact contribution), by wrt to the thesis. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 24 '14 at 9:27
@FeralOink Literature review isn't, but many of the things that appear in a literature review could certainly be incorporated into the "Background" or "History" section for a high-level article. E.g., the Symbolic Logic/History/19th Century section is essentially a very condensed literature review. If an author can publish something in another venue, retain rights to it, and then license it to Wikipedia in a way that meets their standards, and it useful to Wikipedia, it doesn't seem like a problem, much in the same way that… –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 '14 at 13:39
I would just add that hopefully the Wikipedia edits were made from a user account (and not anonymously), and then I would simply put it in the acknowledgements that some of the contents were also added to Wikipedia under the author's own account. –  Thomas Jun 24 '14 at 14:18

The other answers address the question of "once I post this on Wikipedia, can I include it in my thesis?" I would like to address another angle - I am not sure that you should be posting this on Wikipedia at all.

Wikipedia has a policy banning the inclusion of original research. This means "research that is not exclusively based on a summary, review or synthesis of earlier publications on the subject of research." (See English Wikipedia's policy on original research here)That is, basically anything that would be publishable as a thesis. This is because Wikipedia is an encyclopedia - that is, a tertiary source that aggregates information from secondary (and sometimes primary) sources - it cannot accept primary-source material like original research.

You say that you want to share your "bibliographical and synthesis work" on your subject. Bibliographical work may be useful for Wikipedia, but any synthesis you did to add your own ideas and/or discuss them may well be considered original research and be prohibited. The fact that no article exists on the topic leads me to think that it may be a theory or idea of your own and may be considered original research if posted.

That said, as Piotr Migdal said, it's great that you are thinking of contributing to Wikipedia. Wikipedia definitely needs more academics and people who are experts in various areas to contribute their knowledge - it just has to be knowledge that's already accepted in the field, rather than original, non-yet-peer-reviewed research.

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+1 for the policy about original research. I'm disappointed that the highest upvoted answer so far doesn't mention it. –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 '14 at 1:17
I'm really not talking about my research, but bibliographical work, where I just gather information and sum it up from good peer-reviewed journals. Concerning the fact that no article exists on that topic, you'll be surprise to learn that all subjects in science are not equally covered on Wikipedia and in general the open-access-related community seems to be have strong bias toward CS, Math, Physics and less toward Microbiology! –  jeanrjc Jun 24 '14 at 7:37
I'm not not surprised to hear that at all, but I did miss in my first reading that this is your literature review. This is a much ebetter situation, in my opinion, though it may still be easier to publish your thesis first and then contribute part of it to Wikipedia than the other way around. –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 '14 at 11:04
Then go for it! Wikipedia definitely has huge gaps that need filling and we (I'm a Wikipedia researcher) would love to have more quality academic content. From the original question, it seemed like it might be original research, but if it's not, great. –  bsg Jun 24 '14 at 13:08
@FeralOink WP SYNTH (by no means a general definition of synthesis, which means any i.e. anything which is not verbatim quotation from a single source) says "original research by synthesis, where an editor combines reliably sourced statements in a way that makes or suggests a new statement not supported by any one of the sources" (emphasis mine). So writing a reference of already accepted, published things, from the mainstream angle, without suggesting novel conclusions is not WP SYNTH. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 24 '14 at 13:57

I think you can do this safely, but you will want to take some precautions like Piotr mentioned. However, from a practical standpoint, I don't recommend anything that might create problems with your dissertation work. You haven't finished your PhD thesis, and your efforts on that project are far more important than writing a Wikipedia entry for a topic that isn't covered. Even if you cover all your bases, you still have a risk of somebody raising the issue of plagiarism. I suggest minimizing such distractions and side projects and focus exclusively on your thesis. You can then devote your time to these projects after it is defended.

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With respect to "your efforts on that project are far more important than writing a Wikipedia entry for a topic that isn't covered": good advice for a person, not the best - for the civilization. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 23 '14 at 13:48
Sadly, this is an easy criticism for someone in the reviewing committee that is not an expert in the topic. It is like poor labelling in figures: easy to attack if you don't have anything else to say. –  Davidmh Jun 23 '14 at 13:49
@PiotrMigdal I'm not clear how it's worse for civilization; once the thesis is presented, then if the author retains copyright, the author can release the parts that are acceptable (e.g., historical literature review, but not the original work or synthesis), and it will have the credentials of "this is a peer reviewed thesis" rather than "here's some stuff I just wrote". It will still be a bit tricky to keep NPOV, but for parts of the content, it shouldn't be too hard. –  Joshua Taylor Jun 24 '14 at 13:47
@JoshuaTaylor Let's be honest - after finishing thesis it is unlikely that OP will have a lot of time to work on this Wikipedia article. So if someone feels like writing Wikipedia article, then saying "not now, wait after you..." is lowering chance that (s)he will write it at all. In many cases Wikipedia is a good procrastination (maybe not for the person, but for the others). Of course, everything within all of its rules; if something is original research, Wikipedia is not place for it. General introductions/references, tailored to Wikipedia style are usually anything but original research. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 24 '14 at 13:54
@JoshuaTaylor It may be personal, but all of my bigger Wikipedia edits were before an exam, thesis submission, etc. At the stage I am familiar enough, but when I am not yet done with the topic. After I am to tired or fed up that doing something extra with it is not the first thing I am thinking about. Plus, writing in the stage of learning means that I am fresh + I don't unconsciously assume to much of knowledge. –  Piotr Migdal Jun 24 '14 at 14:08

And why not the other way around? First, obtain your PhD and finish your dissertation. Once this has been done, cite among the other bibliographical items in Wikipedia your dissertation.

In this way, there will be no problem. Since it will be the Wikipedia article based on your thesis and not the other way around.

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IIRC there's some regulation on Wikipedia about citing your own sources, so this may not be "kosher", but I'm not sure. –  David Z Jun 23 '14 at 18:45
@DavidZ As far as I read there are two exception to the rule of self-sorces: 1) It has been published by reliable third-party publications -which can be applied to an accepted thesis which is usually published by the university-; 2) it is used as a source of information which is supported in totality by other reliable references -as this case is-. At least this is what Iread in Wikipedia. –  Josué Tonelli-Cueto Jun 24 '14 at 7:01
@JosuéTonelli-Cueto No, it violates NPOV! Neutral point of view. Think about it: if this were allowed, everyone with a PhD thesis would do it! They don't, because it violates standards. –  Ellie Kesselman Jun 24 '14 at 13:26
@FeralOink Could you give me an example in which is violated? For example, in a mathematics thesis the preliminaries are normally neutral. Although, I can understand that in other fields they could not be. Nevertheless, I think that the OP should judge if the synthesis work in his/her thesis violates NPOV or not. –  Josué Tonelli-Cueto Jun 24 '14 at 16:04

Yes, it's problematic. Quoting wikipedia is, to some people, always dodgy, whatever the context. Just don't do it in an academic work.

And you can't reuse your own words, having broadcast them once in wikipedia, without explicitly stating that you're quoting wikipedia - that would be self-plagiarism, just as when if you'd quoted a previous paper you'd written, without explicitly identifying that it was a quote.

So don't do it.

If you've written your best stuff for wikipedia, and left yourself with a dead end for your academic work, then count it as a lesson learnt. But it's more likely that you've just put on wikipedia one first attempt at formulation. So now do a better one, completely rephrased, and use that in your thesis. Then you don't need to mention wikipedia in your thesis at all, except in the acknowledgements section if you wish.

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No, @Ruedi that is not sufficient. It isn't an issue of "looking dodgy". It is against the rules. It doesn't work the way you described. There are quality standards, and rules. Everyone else follows them! Please don't misinform people like this! –  Ellie Kesselman Jun 24 '14 at 13:15
@feraloink What are those rules you claim would be broken by that suggestion? –  Tobias Kildetoft Jun 24 '14 at 16:36
@TobiasKildetoft "quoting without explicitly denoting it as a quote, and without citing the source" is the rule being broken. It doesn't matter that the author of text you're quoting is you - if you're quoting another source, the rule is that you mark it as a quote, and cite the source. –  EnergyNumbers Jun 24 '14 at 16:56

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