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Suppose I do the research for my thesis from 2013 to 2016, and do the write-up of the dissertation in 2016.

If during write-up in 2016 I discover new related work (published during 2016), is it eligible to put it into the related work section of my thesis? Or should this related work have already existed in the beginning of the thesis to be part of its related work?

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up vote 35 down vote accepted

Of course, you should include anything that is relevant regardless of when you started your thesis.

I have even seen dissertations that cite work that is unpublished or still under review.

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I agree too. It seems to me good to think about writing a thesis or any article as if from a "timeless" perspective. It matters less if the argument you make is arranged in the way that you reached it, while it matters much more whether you make the best possible argument with the available resources. You try to optimize for the future reader with same goals as yours and build a best platform for future works. – puslet88 Jan 25 at 22:20

If the section is called "Related work", it should include work that is related, regardless of when it was published. If the section is called "Related work that was published before I even started my PhD", then it only needs to include work that is related and which was published before you started your PhD.

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Although one wouldn't title it that, one might very well end up dividing the literature in such a way. Independent discovery (you did the work before the other group published) can be quite beneficial, because it lends support to the claim of importance. Of course, it should not be the entire scope of the thesis being defended. On the other hand, independent rediscovery is pretty worthless. Your committee discovers you had a big hole in your literature review, which more-or-less cancels out the deeper understanding acquired by doing the work personally instead of just reading about it. – Ben Voigt Jan 26 at 5:16
Any such distinction is more important to the oral defense than the written thesis, of course. – Ben Voigt Jan 26 at 5:17
Never even considered a "Related work that was published before I even started my PhD" chapter ;) – vonbrand Jan 27 at 0:20

I literally added a recently published paper to the "related work" chapter the same day I printed the definitive copy of my thesis. Luckily, it didn't contradict or change anything fundamental.

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If you have a separate related works section, you can definitely include all relevant literature in that section, irrespective of the publication date. In fact, you can even include unpublished work in a thesis, mentioning that it is accepted for publication. However, if you are including a recent work in your literature search section, you should be more careful. Ensure that the work does not contradict or fill in the research gap that you have addressed in your thesis.

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