I am in the early stages of thinking how to structure and write my dissertation. In the course of doing so, I have been spending a lot of time reviewing unpublished dissertations via my universities library service.

One thing I have noticed is that many dissertations include intricate high quality figures but with no reference or sources cited in the figure caption. Should I assume the author somehow generated the figure themselves? Or is it more likely or common that the figure was taken from some other source (e.g. a textbook) and it wasn’t cited because that is not customary or necessary since the work was unpublished?

My gut feel is that any figure you did not create yourself should have a source or reference attached to it.

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    Why is it so unlikely that the authors created the figures themselves? A PhD thesis is meant to be a high quality piece of work, so it's worth investing time to make good figures. Nov 25, 2021 at 8:54

1 Answer 1


If you present someone else's work as your own, that is plagiarism. That can mean taking words someone else wrote or figures someone else generated and putting them into your own document without attribution. Plagiarism is very much frowned upon in academia, and has no place in a PhD dissertation. You gut feeling is correct - if you didn't create it yourself, you should indicate who did, otherwise you are implicitly claiming that the work is yours.

That said, plagiarism certainly does exist in the wild. An author who does not cite a figure claims it as their own, although that doesn't rule out the possibility that they have plagiarized. I'd like to think that most academics avoid plagiarism and properly cite contributing works, however. Unless you track down the original source or note that the author is a serial plagiarist, all you can really do is assume that it is the author's original work.

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