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So, I'm close to the final stretch of my PhD. I have two published works and one work in progress. I've been told that I can't recycle (or I guess, simply copy/paste) the work that I've done in each of the papers in my thesis. Is this right? One of my papers has a lot of boilerplate-style introduction to a model for unfamiliar readers. So I will need to re-introduce the model in my final thesis without using the same wording (I've already used the most succinct phrasing I can come up with in the paper)?

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    Who told you that?
    – Arno
    Nov 30, 2021 at 11:45
  • By other PhD students
    – stevew
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:22
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    First thing to do then is check what your advisor says about this. The claim certainly doesnt reflect a general consensus on what proper behaviour is (I personally would consider any such rule utterly stupid.)
    – Arno
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:25
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    I do not think that you can expect a good answer here. It very much depends on the regulations and customs at your university/in your group. Nov 30, 2021 at 12:56
  • 1
    where in the world are you based?
    – EarlGrey
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:45

4 Answers 4

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The only valid answer for this is a local answer. Your advisor/supervisor is probably the best source. But let me mention the range of possibilities, which go from forbidden to required. It differs by both place and field.

At the required end of the scale there is the notion of the "stapled thesis" which is little more than a collection of previously published work with a bit of connective tissue to bring the body of work together. The faculty that requires this is depending on the publishing system itself to "vet" the work.

At the forbidden end (maybe too strong a term) is the notion that the thesis is a "new" work and that it treats all previous work by the author in the same way that it treats any other published work: quote judiciously and cite. Such works are often longer than typical published papers in the field, but that isn't likely to be a requirement. But they are longer since they tend to require less background from the reader and are more complete than the normal published paper.

Note that the purpose of the dissertation is to demonstrate to the faculty, and perhaps the world, that the candidate can do meaningful research in the field and can present it properly. Both the "stapled" and the "new work" versions work for this, but each faculty may have its own rules and regulation.

In the middle, there is the notion that a thesis may be considered as "something distinct" from a normal publication and the rules of scholarship might be relaxed somewhat. But how much is a matter of local custom and rules, as well as what is acceptable to the advisor.

Plagiarism notes: If you include ideas of your own from previously published work you need to cite it. This is independent of whether you copy large parts of it or not. Plagiarism is about ideas, not words. So, even when it is allowed to "include" early work, you need to cite it.

Copyright notes: Since the work is previously published you may not hold copyright anymore. This means that you need to adhere to the normal copyright rules as amended by any license you have been given by the copyright holder. It is typical, but I doubt universal, for a publisher to grant the author a license for certain uses, especially for use in a dissertation. But, there are rules and you need to adhere. It is likely that you can quote more extensively from your own published work than another person could (with citation and clear indications of what is being quoted), but there may be limitations. Look at old agreements from when the work was published or ask an editor.

And note that paraphrasing isn't an absolute guard against copyright claims. And, even paraphrasing requires citation.

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  • -1 If "the only valid answer is a local answer" then you should vote to close the question for strongly depending on individual factors rather than answering it.
    – astronat
    Nov 30, 2021 at 15:31
  • @astronat, people come here for help. Sorry you're upset. Sorry that you think this "isn't useful".
    – Buffy
    Nov 30, 2021 at 15:49
  • Thanks @Buffy. My university will run our thesis against published papers (including our own) for plagiarism. Now that you've pointed out, maybe this is to do with copyright because, as you said, we don't hold the rights to our papers anymore
    – stevew
    Dec 1, 2021 at 11:22
  • I've accepted this answer but will report back once I had a chat with my supervisors
    – stevew
    Dec 1, 2021 at 11:25
  • I’ve seen (had a copy, probably still do somewhere) an actual ‘stapled thesis’ - it was a cover sheet with the required university title page, followed by reprints of papers with the candidate as an author, all stapled in the top left corner. This was from a Scandanavian university in the 1980s… Of course harder to do now without actual reprints (easy in pdf form). I was envious since I wasn’t allowed to do that at my institution.
    – Jon Custer
    Dec 2, 2021 at 2:06
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At least in Spain, when you join a Ph.D. program you are subject to the regulations of that university. I don't know if in your University there is such a thing as a "doctoral administration department" (i.e. a department that is dedicated to managing the issues related to the enrollment to a Ph.D., including the rules concerning the supervision, the deposit, and defense of your thesis, etc.). If such a body exists, you could raise your issue with them.

If there is no such body, ask someone in your Department or even your supervisor. I think it unlikely that anyone on the forum knows the rules you are bound by.

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Ask your advisors, thesis readers, and the department chair/program director who oversee everything.

In general, if you are in a reputable US university, you can simply combine your three papers and graduate, provided that those three papers are in good quality.

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"I've already used the most succinct phrasing I can come up with in the paper" there you go: as far as I know, PhD thesis having a limit on the pages number are not a common thing.

So you are good to go, you just need to be a-succinct.

Can you include the papers as chapters of the thesis (1 paper = 1 chapter)? especially in Germany it is quite common, by transparently declaring it.

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  • Sorry, I do not understand what you mean with a-succinct. Can you explain? Nov 30, 2021 at 12:17
  • I assume you mean re-writing each paper as a chapter right?
    – stevew
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:22
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    Sorry, but this is dangerous advice. You have no way to know the rules the OP is bound by.
    – Buffy
    Nov 30, 2021 at 12:38
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    Why do you assume your rules apply? Why Switzerland? I don't claim it is never allowed, but you imply it is always permitted. Bad advice. Sorry.
    – Buffy
    Nov 30, 2021 at 13:04
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    Getting a bit heated there! Thanks everyone for offering to help!
    – stevew
    Dec 1, 2021 at 11:25

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