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There has been general discussion of whether one can use a published work in their dissertation, with the consensus being 'of course'! The first two chapters of my thesis will be published works. I'm interested in the reverse now; I intend to write the third chapter of my thesis as a draft of sorts for a publication. Now I'm wondering whether including text and figures from my dissertation in a [future] manuscript constitutes 'self-plagarism'.

A fellow graduate student advised me that it's only 'self-plagarism' if I formally copyright my thesis, however, I'm skeptical of that being the important distinction.

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In the context of a university, self-plagiarism (or auto-plagiarism, as it tends to be known) generally only refers to submitting the same work for two or more different credit-bearing assignments within the institution, or submitting work which has been awarded credits at another institution.

There's generally no restriction on using work submitted for a university degree in a publication, unless the university specifically expresses its ownership of that work (which sometimes happens if the work was involved in a commercial or collaborative project).

You can get into trouble for publishing the same work in more than one publication, but because the contract you sign with the publishers will specifically prohibit you from doing this (or will specifically allow it) this is not plagiarism as much as it is fraud. Even then, providing they know in advance, most publishers will allow authors to include chapters in monographs that are based around previously published articles, providing the initial copyright holder gives their consent (which in academic work they usually will, as long as the original publication is cited).

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One reason I thought copyrights might be involved is exactly because I know you can't reuse text you wrote for a journal article. Thanks for pointing out it's not copyright so much as a part of the journal agreement. –  vector07 Jul 6 at 17:49

In general this is OK or, in some fields, even recommended. It does not make any difference if the dissertation comes first and then the publication or vice versa.

However, I would reference the thesis/paper(something along the line: this paper was part of my dissertation ... or this chapter was published as ...) and you should talk to someone (your supervisor? the postgrad coordinator?) in your department about that. There might be some rules regarding that practice (I never heard of anything like that but just to be on the safe side).

Btw: Self-plagarism has nothing to do with copyright violations.

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