I am currently working on my master's thesis in physics. Parts of my work seemed to be relevant for the scientific community, so we decided to publish a paper about my findings (arXiv + journal [currently under review]).

I have found multiple articles on the internet and questions here on stack exchange about how to publish findings from master's thesis, but I have found only one article about what to do when parts of one's thesis have already been published somewhere else and another one speaking of reusing passages in two different papers. Nevertheless, these threads do not answer my questions fully, so I would appreciate your comments!

A some results of my thesis have already been published (at least on a pre-print platform, as I do not expect that the review will be finished before I finish my thesis), I am wondering how I can write about these findings in my thesis itself. I am pretty sure that I can present and discuss my results in my thesis and I plan to write some remidy, stating which parts of my work have been published somewhere else. My question is in which way I can use the results and thoughts in the published version, so whether I can use parts of the paper (e.g., the main part, presenting and discussing the results) in my thesis (more or less) verbatim or if I have to rewrite/rephrase it in other words?

As this was my first publication, I've spent quite a long time on writing, changing, reviewing, rearranging and correcting my paper, focussing on precise, non-wordy formulations, etc. So, I think it would not be for the reader's benefit if I rewrite this section, just keeping an eye on a different wording.

According to my knowledge, if I use passages from other sources verbatim (and my paper might count as "other source") I have to use quotation marks. Hence, I would have to set a significant part of my "results" and "discussion" section in my thesis under quotation marks, which looks very unfortunate. If I do not, it might be considered as self-plagiarism, which is definitely not what I want. Furthermore, I have no idea what the plagiarism checking software will do.

Is there any blueprint or guideline what to do in such a case?

PS: If that is of relevance, my only co-author is one of my thesis-supervisors.

  • 1
    Personally I don't see a problem with using the work verbatim and without quotation marks - it was part of the thesis project work anyway, wasn't it? You then write "part XXX is already in YYY on preprint server ZZZ". In any case ask your supervisor, they should know. Commented May 10, 2021 at 12:22

1 Answer 1


The guidelines regarding plagiarism vary quite a bit according to location and subject area, as plagiarism is primarily an ethical matter rather than a legal one.

In physics and mathematics theses written in places where I have been involved with the process, it is commonplace to start a chapter of the thesis with: "This chapter is drawn from [cite the paper(s)]" or "This chapter is an exposition of [cite the paper(s)]".

The ethical reason usually given against self-plagiarism is that it could lead to "false duplication" of one's publication record by making trivial (or no!) improvements to existing work. Such a clear declaration at the start of the chapter that draws upon an existing publication makes it clear that the author is not making any such attempt.

Plagiarism checking software may or may not flag this chapter once this is done. In my experience, plagiarism software is unreliable for many reasons and should not have the last word. However, how it is actually viewed would depend upon the administrative policy of the organisation where you are submitting your master's thesis for evaluation.

Self-plagiarism is not related to the following issue, but it may be relevant to note at this point. Your supervisor (or your examination committee) may expect you to include additional details in your Master's thesis that may not be in the research article. For example, material that is considered "standard" or "well-known" is often left out from research articles. For this reason, merely cut-and-paste material from a research publication may not be what is expected in a Master's thesis. Even in this case, the second line as above ("exposition of ...") is appropriate and should be included.

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    Excellent answer, but I'd also add that while cut and paste copying (with citation) may avoid plagiarism concerns, it might not stand up to copyright law if the paper in question has a copyright now owned by the publisher. Many publishers might be lenient (if asked), but not all. In the negative case you need to limit how much is quoted and go to paraphrasing the ideas from the paper in the thesis.
    – Buffy
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 12:31
  • Thank you for your comments! @Kapil The relevant part would be the "results and findings" sections of the paper I mentioned, which can be a stand-alone results chapter in my thesis (but not the only chapter with results, as there is another topic with some findings). The explanation of the methods etc. is explained in earlier sections of my thesis in more detail than in the paper. @ Buffy Thank you for that remark! I've already asked back at the journal, where I have submitted - fortunately, there are no copyright issues!
    – pcalc
    Commented May 10, 2021 at 17:13

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