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I recently finished my PhD, and now I'm in the process of submitting a journal article on the work I did in the final few months of my degree. This work is an extension to some conference papers that I'd published earlier, and so I've cited them in my journal article stating how the submitted work differs from the published material. When I submitted the article to the journal, I mentioned in a cover letter that the same results/algorithms exist in my PhD dissertation.

After submission, I received a note from the journal to also cite my own PhD dissertation in the article, as there is a fair bit of similarity. The note said:

You can resubmit after you have referenced the original article, and explained in your new article how this new work builds on your previous publication(s).

Considering the work presented in the journal article is not really an extension, and is pretty much the same as in the dissertation, how do I properly reference it? In my experience, I have not seen papers where the authors cited their own dissertation in the text.

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    Maybe a google scholar search for "my dissertation" will give an example, close to your situation, that you can follow. Include one or more general terms for your field if you want something more field-specific. Feb 9 at 21:13
  • Wording "the original article" may hint on some confusion. Are you sure you made it completely clear that the work in question is your dissertation and not a published paper? I think some clarification may be necessary
    – Yuriy S
    Feb 10 at 16:09
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In my experience (Theoretical Computer Science/Mathematical Logic) this issue is typically handled by having the sentence "This article is based on Chapter X of the author's PhD thesis \cite{myThesis}." as a stand-alone paragraph at the end of the introduction section.

Having just the plain sentence is consistent with the article having been edited only minimally to turn a chapter into a stand-alone article. If there are substantial differences, these can be pointed out in addition. Eg "We refer the reader to \cite{myThesis} for a much more detailed exposition of the proof."

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    In my field this sentence is usually part of the acknowledgement section. Not sure exactly why that is!
    – Dawn
    Feb 9 at 23:45
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    In my experience, this sentence is often a footnote on the first page. It's also often slightly extended by appending "written under the supervision of [name of Ph.D adviser]." Feb 9 at 23:52
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    Here's an example from one of the top economics journals of using the footnote on the first page: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.3982/ECTA6248
    – Jeff
    Feb 10 at 18:54
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If the dissertation is "published" then cite it like any other work. Otherwise cite it by name and authors and mark the citation as (doctoral dissertation, U of the Universe, unpublished).

It might only take a note or a short paragraph somewhere to explain how the present paper is related to the dissertation. "Builds" was just boilerplate. In fact, the note you sent to the editors might be enough if it is incorporated in a "prior work" paragraph or two.

"Published" is a nebulous term for dissertations. It can mean other than "by a recognized publisher". For example, some dissertations are "published" by the university and available via the Library or by ProQuest/University Microfilms.

But, failure to cite the ideas is self plagiarism. When in doubt, cite, even if you think it is over-citation.


Some dissertations are nothing more than a collection of previously published work along with a description of how it fits together as a whole. In such a case, just cite the individual papers as you would those of any researcher. Such dissertations are common in some fields and are also sometimes known as "stapled" distributions.

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  • I disagree with the part about citing the dissertation as a published work. My dissertation was three working papers. I certainly was not expected to cite it when I published that work. I simply had a note in the acknowledgment.
    – Dawn
    Feb 9 at 21:24
  • For a "cumulative" dissertation as you describe, @Dawn, it is enough to cite the individual papers as you suggest. The dissertation isn't really a new thing, taken in itself. The OP here didn't describe it as such. And I assume you mean three "published" working papers. Edited to clarify
    – Buffy
    Feb 9 at 21:50
  • No, I am suggesting the reverse. The dissertation was working papers. When publishing, the convention is to write something in the acknowledgment like: “The present research was originally conducted as part of the author’s dissertation work at The University of Research.”
    – Dawn
    Feb 9 at 23:44
  • @Buffy Out of curiosity, is it common in the US that PhD theses are not published? At least in Germany (and I think in many parts of Europe), in general they must be published. Of course, traditionally this just meant handing in 30 or so copies to be deposited at some main libraries, and nowadays it means publishing it at the university library's website + 5 or so copies handed in.
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 20:51
  • @Buffy as an example: "PhD dissertations are published or otherwise made available for distribution as proof of the candidate’s achievement, echoing a traditional European idea that the candidate for a doctorate must make a contribution to knowledge and cannot have a degree for making a discovery that is kept secret. Because of this, restricting access to dissertations or delaying the release of the work (i.e. “embargoed”) only occurs in very exceptional cases." gsas.harvard.edu/degree-requirements/dissertations/…
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 20:56
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When I submitted the article to the journal, I mentioned in a cover letter that the same results/algorithms exist in my PhD dissertation.

The editor made a mistake. Very probably an automated plagiarism check was performed without viewing the cover letter or examining the type of document the plagiarism check located. The editor thought your dissertation was an article, which it obviously is not.

Are you sure this is a good quality journal?
How do I identify predatory and low quality journals? With Beall's List gone, how can I tell if a journal is spam?

It is perfectly normal to cite your own dissertation the same way you would cite someone else's.

Once you have cited your dissertation and determined this is a good journal, you can write in your response letter that the submission is a portion of your dissertation and it is not previously published in any journal (assuming that's true.)

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  • If the dissertation is published (which can mean many things - basically just that everyone can go and look it up in some library), then it should be cited.
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 20:52
  • I agree that this is a mistake by the editor. Obviously you can use the text from your dissertation with a minor note or citation somewhere in the article.
    – Dawn
    Feb 10 at 21:33
  • @Dawn But isn't that precisely the point, that it should be cited properly?
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 22:15
  • @AnonymousPhysicist Hm, the editor might just have been sloppy or in a hurry. In the quote, it also says "build on previous publications" (not: articles).
    – user151413
    Feb 11 at 0:55
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Traditionally, PhD theses constitute a public proof of your abilities and therefore need to be published. (This is certainly true in the places in Europe I know, but a quick search revealed e.g. the same for Harvard, and I assume it is true for more US places as well).

The traditional way of this publication process would be to print a certain number of copies and hand them in at your library, which would then distribute it to some central libraries (national library etc.) which hold a copy of anything published in a country/region. There is no need to be able to order the thesis with a publisher, for it to have an ISBN number, etc.. (Semi-fun fact: When people started chasing German politician who plagiarized their PhD thesis, in some cases all copies were borrowed from those libraries and were never returned.)

These days, the publication process (at least in natural sciences) often consists in submitted an electronic version which is made available on the website of the university library. (It might be that a reduced number of printed copies still needs to be handed in.)

In either case, this constitutes a publication which can be cited. It should be cited like any other book, i.e.,

High Voltage, "On current and resistance", PhD thesis, Tesla University, Berlin, 2021,

or corresponding to the journal style. If it is published on the library website, it makes a lot of sense to add the URL or (if existent) DOI.

Of course, if the PhD thesis is not published, this is different, and it need not be cited. (In fact, one might argue it cannot be cited, as it is not a publication.) In any case, if you are unsure you should check with your university, most likely either the library or the graduation office.

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  • True for some US places, certainly. But there are no universal rules in the US.
    – Buffy
    Feb 10 at 21:11
  • @Buffy There are no universal rules e.g. in Germany either, in the sense of centrally imposed rules. Typically, each university makes their own rules for awarding PhD, and possibly departments can modify the rules. But I'm rather sure that all of those rules say that a PhD thesis must be published. I think this is simply the traditional perspective on a PhD thesis, see also the Harvard quote - that it is a publication, publicly demonstrating your qualification.
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 21:46
  • And, again, certainly true for Harvard. The US is not Germany.
    – Buffy
    Feb 10 at 22:01
  • @Buffy No doubt about that! I guess in the US pretty much anything can call themselves a university and award degrees.
    – user151413
    Feb 10 at 22:14
  • So, chauvinism now? Please. The standards here are pretty high generally.
    – Buffy
    Feb 10 at 22:38
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You could try pre-printing it and citing the preprint. Benefits are short time to `publication' (a couple of days, maximum, and only on a weekend) so very short delay to resubmission, moreover, the citation still counts for h-indices etc. I am sure that arXiv does theses as I have definitely read some there.

A proper citation could simply be a sentence like ``[type of result] [number or name if applicable] was developed in [citation], and is [restated/extended/some other word] here."

[citation] Your Name, Year, Your Dissertation Title, Dissertation from [your univ.]

This citation may be adapted if you do indeed arxiv it.

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    Putting the dissertation on the arXiv does not help with the OPs issue at all.
    – Arno
    Feb 10 at 19:49
  • Not only was that not the sole content of my answer, but had you read more carefully, in combination with the rest of the answer it absolutely does aim to help -- here is a place to cite it from, and here is how to cite it, together following the conventions of normal self-citation practises in academic literature.
    – rage_man
    Feb 10 at 20:03

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