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I saw similar questions but not exactly the same as my situation. I have three papers prepared during my Ph.D., one is published already, and the other two are just manuscripts that have not been submitted yet. If I copy and paste the contents from my papers to my thesis:

  1. For the one published, will my thesis be considered plagiarism?
  2. For the ones that have not been published, will those be considered plagiarism by the publisher when I submit them in the future because the same content has shown up in my thesis?

Many Thanks!

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I'll try to summarize some of the issues.

First, there is the concept of the stapled thesis that is common in some fields/places. The thesis consists of a set of published papers (published) and, perhaps some unifying commentary. The thesis itself is (largely) just a collection.

Publishers usually require that you give them copyright to things of yours that they publish, and will give you back a license for some (but not all) uses. That license, these days, will almost always give you rights to include the work in a "stapled" thesis (I don't know of exceptions, actually, but must admit the possibility). Generally, though, a stapled thesis probably isn't considered by the publisher to be a "republication" of the already published work.

Somewhat orthogonal to that is the notion of self plagiarism. This is a form that has only some of the characteristics of (ordinary) plagiarism, though without misattribution of the person who originated the ideas. Self plagiarism is considered a violation because if you, for example, copy-paste your own earlier work without citation, you break the chain of evidence for discoveries. The early work contains context that a researcher wants to see along with the current work. You avoid self plagiarism by quoting and citing the early work, permitting that chain of context to be followed.

A third issue you raise opens the problem that if you put unpublished work in a thesis (your unpublished manuscripts) and if that is considered publishing then some publishers won't accept it. That is becoming somewhat less of a problem these days with preprint servers (and is not much of a problem at all in some fields that welcome preprints), but you need to be sensitive to that. But, if you have unpublished work, you can do what you like with it, copy-paste, whatever. It just might limit what you can do afterwards.

Generally speaking it is better (and a better habit) to keep things clean. If you copy, do so judiciously and with citation. Make sure that your license (from published work) permits what you want to do. Ask if you aren't sure. If you cite, you avoid hints of plagiarism.

If you want to write a non-stapled type of thesis using early work the best path is to treat the work as you would the work of anyone else. Quote from it, but not too extensively, just as you would from the work of others, and cite what you use. Then, if the thesis contains new results and extensions to old results, it might just be publishable as a new work. I'll also note that the license from a publisher will probably give you rights to copy somewhat more extensively than you could from other works, but likely not unlimited copying.

A major issue for you, however, is what your university expects in a thesis. If they accept a stapled thesis, you are fine. Write up the "bridge/summary" commentary if needed and staple it together. If they accept a new summary of old work, you are probably fine, but keep it clean - quote and cite. But if they expect an entirely new work (unlikely under the circumstances) then you need to provide that.

It would, however, seem odd to me if the university permitted unlimited copy-paste without quote or citation. That is just poor scholarship.

I hope this is enough commentary to guide you.

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I don't know where you study, but it is not a problem at all in the US. My doctoral dissertation is just a simple and straight combination of my published and unpublished journal manuscripts, and it is totally not a problem at all for me.

If you go and check journal publishers' policy about reusing your own manuscript as part of your dissertation (such as Elsevier), you will find most of these journal publishers don't have any problem if you use your own published first-author manuscript as part of your dissertation. Some publishers may require you to get copyright permission, and some publishers may just want you to make a simple acknowledgment. But you need to follow journal publishing companies' policies and your institution's policy.

I quote Elsevier's policy regarding your question here: "Can I include/use my article in my thesis/dissertation? Yes. Authors can include their articles in full or in part in a thesis or dissertation for non-commercial purposes." Weblink is here: https://www.elsevier.com/about/policies/copyright/permissions

So please check your institution's policy and journal publishing company's policy.

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  • Even in the US, this differs by field.
    – Buffy
    Sep 2 at 18:37
  • OK. My file is engineering, just to clarify here Sep 3 at 0:25

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