Here is the situation: I am working with 2 others on a paper A, and simultaneously by myself separately on a paper B (which is a thesis).

  • A and B are on very much similar topics.

  • I started with paper B slightly before we started working on paper A, but the ideas in paper B build upon the ideas in paper A.

  • Moreover, paper A will very likely be published sooner than paper B. My plan at first was to cite paper A in paper B.

  • However, my other 2 co-authors have now started to shift their idea about what domain of paper A should be, and they are shifting towards the topic of my paper B, and have even started to reinvent some of my ideas in paper B.

  • Therefore, I am very concerned that this will cause a plagiarism issue: If we decide that paper A should contain many of the ideas in paper B, then ideally, I would want A to cite B: I came up with these ideas independently and for a different paper, so if A wants to use them, paper B (i.e. myself) should get credit for the work (since I put in all the work and came up with it first, and we originally didn't plan to put it in paper A). But paper A will likely get published before paper B is handed in as a thesis.

Most importantly: I need to hand in paper B as a thesis, and I cannot afford not to hand it in, or to make a completely different thesis. Therefore I need to be sure that paper B does not commit (self?) plagiarism.

  • Is there a way for paper A to cite paper B (my thesis), even though paper A will be published before B?

  • If no, how to avoid (self?) plagiarism in this situation? (somehow integrate parts of B in A while still recognising B as the original work that is a separate thesis and gets credit as such?)

  • Is it generally stupid to work on two papers simultaneously like this? Did I make a big mistake...?

2 Answers 2


There is no particular problem with citing unpublished work. Just list it as such. There is no problem with citing work that will not ever be published in fact. Just name the author and list it as "private communication". Give a title if appropriate, or a description.

In the case at hand, it seems wiser to cite A within B as it is likely to be published first, but since you don't have the final version, it could be listed as "unpublished, in preparation".

Talk to your advisor, of course, about what he/she recommends here. I think in most cases the rules on a thesis can be, with permission of the advisor, a bit looser than for formally published work. You need to cite, in any case, but the fact that things are a bit tentative can be finessed.

As for plagiarism, cite your own work, whether joint or not, just as you would the work of another.

  • Thanks a lot for the help. A question: "In the case at hand, it seems wiser to cite A within B as it is likely to be published first". But let's say that my co-authors decide that A incorporates a large part of B, then if I don't cite B in A, it will mean that B essentially has less original work in it, which wouldn't reflect the work I put in B, and would make B less likely to pass as a thesis it seems. I am worried about this, and doubt whether it would be wise to not cite B in A.
    – user99265
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:26
  • Do you think it would be wise and possible for A to cite parts of B that were original to B, and B to cite parts in A that were original to A?
    – user99265
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:33
  • I don't see any difficulty with that. But ask your advisor.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 21:36

Ask your advisor is critical here.

You want a record that you have clarified this issue before submission. Ideally, formulate it by email so that you have a written mail trail, too.

The problem is not so much the quoting (your idea of mutual citation of the respective novelty very nicely sums up what is, in principle, the correct thing to do). The problem is the fact that:

  1. your advisor and the academic board needs to believe your version of where material comes from and that's best clarified ahead of time;

  2. your co-authors in A might claim originality and accuse you of plagiarism (despite you knowing where things come from) - this is a serious danger when ideas pop up simultaneously, and even more so if you collaborated. They may insist that things are differently from what you report here and had originated with them (The Leibniz/Newton or Hilbert/Einstein disputes come to mind as prominent examples of this; the first a particularly infamous case, in the second a major priority dispute was averted due to the soberer mindsets of Hilbert and Einstein, but, until today, it still fuels historians' debates). You are probably nowhere near the virulence of these cases, but it still can get ugly.

TL;DR: clarify the situation as soon as possible, with your advisor, and, ideally, with a decent email trail to avoid any nasty surprises by the academic board (or your co-authors) later on.

  • Thanks for the help! A question: How will point 2 be solved by sending an email to my advisor? That wouldn't prevent the credibility of my co-authors if they claimed the ideas were theirs would it?
    – user99265
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 13:58
  • @user99265: you do it right away, when things only have started to develop. In the end it will be claim vs. claim, but the earlier you inform your advisor, the earlier you can either establish your prior claims or discuss alternative options/strategies with the advisor. Leaving it for later will exacerbate the situation and only contribute to make it harder to reconstruct how things originally developed. Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 16:36
  • That makes sense. I presume it is wise to give a detailed account of the relation between the contents of the two papers, and what exactly I was original author of?
    – user99265
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 16:46
  • Talk to your advisor, there is no point in speculating which details are essential. If you have a list of the material split, you can bring it with you. Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 16:55

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