Strictly speaking, is translating to english my own published work written in my mothertongue in a non-peer reviewed journal to put it as a part of my PhD thesis plagiarism ?

  • 1
    If you cite the original properly, it is not plagiarism. (Not even self-plagiarism.) What can you include in your Ph.D. thesis? Ask your advisor.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 26, 2018 at 0:35
  • 1
    Was the work completed as part of your PhD programme? Mar 26, 2018 at 6:33

3 Answers 3


This will depend on your institution's rules and your situation, but here are some general points

  • You can usually use any (and only) work you have performed as part of your PhD studies* to satisfy your thesis requirements (previous work you've done, other than as part of your PhD, is typically included as if you were referring to the literature). Non-standard programmes, such as professional doctorates and DSc qualifications, may have different rules on this.
  • You will need to be mindful of whether you're allowed to copy word-for-word. In the UK, for instance, you can use results from your publications in your thesis, but you have to restructure the text.** In other countries, thesis-by-publication is more common, and a direct translation may be permissible.
  • I strongly recommend appropriate references to/mentions of your existing publications - this could take the form of a page at the front entitled "publications arising from this work".
  • You will need to be aware that direct reuse could create copyright issues, if you intend to put your thesis online or republish it. You will need to investigate the copyright status of your publications if you intend to do this. This answer explains how to acquire rights, if needed. This answer covers some copyright considerations in more detail.

*The meaning of this is a bit of a grey area. But this usually means performed during your time of registration, towards your registered project, at or under the auspices of the institution(s) you are registered with/official project sponsors.

**This is a consequence of both academic regulations often precluding thesis by publication and the different requirements of a thesis and a few independent papers - in particular, the requirement that a thesis forms a coherent whole, and a typical need for more context and detail in a thesis, vs conciseness in a paper.

  • 3
    Your blanket statement that in the UK you can't copy word for word is wrong. Also, whatever other matters impact whether what the OP suggests is ok, it is definitely not plagiarism.
    – Arno
    Mar 25, 2018 at 17:08
  • I'd be interested to see evidence of this. But outside of edge cases (PhD by translation, PhD by commentary etc., higher/professional doctorates) I have never encountered PhD-by-publication in the UK (even if it is technically permitted, publications are almost never suitable for use as a thesis, in the UK system, without adaptation). Not that it really matters for the substance of the answer, where it was given only as an example consideration. 1/2 Mar 25, 2018 at 18:41
  • 1
    imperial.ac.uk/media/imperial-college/… - "A series of papers, whether published or otherwise, is not acceptable for submission as a thesis.Research work already published, or submitted for publication ... may be included in the thesis.The published papers themselves may not be included in the body of the thesis, but may be adapted to form an integral part of the thesis and thereby make a relevant contribution to the main theme of the thesis." Mar 25, 2018 at 18:53
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    You typically cannot include entire papers as they are, sure. When I wrote my PhD thesis (Cambridge, Computer Science) several chapters where obtained by writing an introduction (explaining how everything fits together), and then copying in pages over pages of definitions, theorems and proofs. Sometimes there was some notation to adapt, something I was able to give nicer proofs then, Still, I'd estimate that about 40% of my thesis was copied from my papers. Since several chapters were stuff I published later, I could easily have gone up to 80%.
    – Arno
    Mar 25, 2018 at 20:30
  • 1
    I agree with your rephrasing to "restructure", and will reverse my downvote. I still disagree with copyright being important, I think its best ignored in such a situation.
    – Arno
    Mar 25, 2018 at 20:32

Plagiarism is presenting other peoples' work as your own. Since the described situation is not mentioning work by other people, it cannot be plagiarism.

Now "This is not plagiarism" is a necessary, but not a sufficient criterion for being acceptable.

It could be self-plagiarism (which is very unfortunately named, since it is not a kind of plagiarism). Self-plagiarism is a bit ill-defined, it is essentially about attempting to be credited twice for one bit of work. Since a PhD thesis is fundamentally different from a non-refereed article, self-plagiarism does not apply.

It could be prohibited by the relevant regulations of your university. Check those to see if this applies.

Including the translated material without being transparent about it would violate good scientific practise.

Finally, there could be copyright issues, if you are not the copyright holder for the translated article, and don't have the right reserved to use for your thesis. It is up to you whether you care about copyright, in practise you can typically get away without doing so.

  • Some people see quoting previous work of yours without attribution as a sort of "self-plagiarism".
    – einpoklum
    Mar 26, 2018 at 0:14

tl;dr: Not plagiarism but try to avoid quoting long passages

If you explain what you're doing, i.e. either cite your own non-English publication or mention clearly that some parts of the work are translated from a non-English publication (say, as part of an introduction or an overview) - then you've certainly not committed any sort of plagiarism nor anything wrong ethically or morally. Still, like @WanderingChemist suggests, this may be against technical regulations.

Having said that: It's rarely a good idea to quote large sections of text verbatim. So unless there's a very good reason not to, I suggest you do some rephrasing/restructuring to fit with your thesis:

  • Use unified preliminaries/definitions/terminology
  • Refer to findings in other parts of your thesis which were not referred to in the non-English paper
  • Consider refining, elaborating or illustrating your argumentation; this is a thesis, after all, so you're not under stringent restriction of the number of pages.
  • etc.

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