How would you respond if an advisor writes a chapter of your thesis for you and asks you to rewrite what they wrote? Something seems wrong but I can't pinpoint it. It seems like a grey area. What are the potential plagiarism implications if I do this? And how can a student rewrite it any better than what someone with so much experience has written?

What would be an ethical and courteous way to respond? If there are any other sources or places you think I might be able to find more information or help from about this, I would like to hear that too.

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    More detail is needed. Why does the advisor want to do this? Is it just a matter of being a more natural writer in the language of choice? Whose work is it (the underlying research)? Who gets credit?
    – Buffy
    Feb 26, 2021 at 0:03
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    @Buffy Undergrad
    – user135600
    Feb 26, 2021 at 0:19
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    In an ideal world, you would ask the advisor why, and ask them what are the consequences. Maybe you can do that.
    – Buffy
    Feb 26, 2021 at 0:25
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    Maybe the idea is that it's a sample of how to write - it might be a didactic trick to teach a student who does not know how to write, how to do so. After all, they ask the student to rewrite it, and the other chapters need to be written, too. I am hesitant to judge before I have the whole picture. Feb 26, 2021 at 0:28
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    What discipline is this? I imagine this could be a very different case depending on the discipline. If it's a discipline where writing mostly involves reporting results of research, and you've done the research and gotten the results, then I see this as being a possibly valid pedagogical approach. But in other disciplines, where writing is more integral to the research itself (humanities disciplines, for example), I'd be more inclined to think this was either really poor pedagogy or even unethical. Feb 26, 2021 at 2:03

2 Answers 2


A few possible reasons:

  1. The advisor is not very experienced with advising students and is not clear on what they are supposed to do.
  2. The advisor intends to publish the thesis with the student and is therefore interested in ensuring that the specific chapter is properly written.
  3. The advisor is not confident in the student’s ability to correctly formulate certain ideas.

What can the student do? Ask the advisor politely to lead the writing of the thesis, write a first draft that they can later review. If the advisor insists, I suggest letting it go. It’s one chapter and is not a very big deal if it is indeed an undergraduate thesis. Helping students write is not unethical unless the student is really not leading the project. However in that case I fail to see why the advisor would take the thesis writing as their own project...

  • @[Spark] For an undergraduate thesis, what does it look like if the student is leading the project? I'm not sure, maybe I am not leading it? I don't know how much advice an advisor should give to new students because doesn't the student first have to learn the ropes first? My advisor gave me many things to do and there wasn't much chance for me to go my own way yet.
    – user135600
    Feb 27, 2021 at 0:42
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    One rule of thumb would be - can you confidently explain every idea that you present in the thesis to a professional audience? I don’t think you need to necessarily come up with all of the ideas but you should absolutely know in detail what’s happening
    – Spark
    Feb 27, 2021 at 1:49
  • @[Spark] Thank you for the rule of thumb. Yes, in that case, I think I can explain it to a professional audience.
    – user135600
    Feb 27, 2021 at 4:24

For PhD students: If the advisor conducts the research, the student must not submit that research as part of their thesis. If the advisor did the research, it does not matter who did the writing: for the student to include it in their PhD thesis would be plagiarism if unattributed or, if attributed, fail to meet the standard required for a PhD. A PhD student in this situation should respond by expressing a desire to demonstrate their ability to work independently.

If it is not a PhD thesis but at a lower level, it might be okay for a student to write about someone else's research if proper attribution is given.

If the student did the research but the advisor wrote it up, this is not ideal. However, in some disciplines it may be considered acceptable for an advisor to give extensive writing assistance to PhD students.

And how can a student rewrite it any better than what someone with so much experience has written?

Probably the goal is to rewrite it to be in your own words, not to rewrite it to be better.

I would suggest outlining the writing, and then changing the structure of the outline. Check the new structure with your advisor to make sure it is acceptable. Then rewrite according to the outline.

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    I guess I missed the "undergraduate" tag. Feb 26, 2021 at 4:59
  • @[Anonymous Physicist] How might proper attribution be given in this case? Do I write a sentence at the beginning of the chapter? Thank you, that's a good way to think about the goal of rewriting, like writing my own notes from reading.
    – user135600
    Feb 27, 2021 at 0:40
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    Ask your advisor. Feb 27, 2021 at 1:11
  • @[Anonymous Physicist] Ok, thank you I guess they might know better.
    – user135600
    Feb 27, 2021 at 4:21

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