I received help from a (online) tutor in a technical support capacity in my PhD thesis.

He was paid, and advised on math. notation, implementing a statistical technique (I suggested the technique) and plotting and statistical code to specification.

I did not acknowledge him in the thesis. (I asked about what to do in I didn't acknowledge someone who helped with my thesis, is there anything I can or should do now?)

Does the fact he is not acknowledged constitute plagiarism?

  • Is it a PHD thesis, MSc thesis or undergraduate thesis?
    – Alexandros
    Feb 7, 2015 at 15:01
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    What did your supervisors say when you discussed this with them?
    – 410 gone
    Feb 7, 2015 at 15:48
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    Taking into consideration your comment on the first answer, I think you are good. You would not acknowledge the teacher who taught you how to write, or the one who refined your grammar, or taught you addition, all of which were used in some form in your paper. Someone who taught you the notation to use in your thesis does not sound like the sort of thing you would acknowledge, to me as someone without any knowledge specific to thesises. But as EnergyNumbers writes, no reason not to discuss the situation with your supervisor.
    – Jonathon
    Feb 8, 2015 at 4:06
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    @TrevorWilson The question in the title was "...is this considered plagiarism?" I answered that with "There is no universal agreement on what plagiarism is..." That is a fact. Then, I went on to state the very real fact that punishments for the ill-defined transgression are varied and subjective. This is real life. I would also add that anyone who is accused of such a transgression should get the advice of a lawyer if a university threatens to destroy tens of thousands of dollars worth of someone's education. People are paying top dollar for their educations. They need protection. Feb 8, 2015 at 20:32
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    @TrevorWilson I'm certainly not discouraging anybody from learning about anything. I'm saying that, with regard to the clearly ill-defined concept of plagiarism, in real life, "some animals are more equal than others." There are some "big name" people in the world right now who are accused of plagiarism. Nothing seems to be happening to them. But universities seem to be gung ho about invalidating tens of thousands of dollars worth of college credits. This needs to be legally investigated in the courts. People need to be protected from university attacks. Feb 8, 2015 at 20:52

1 Answer 1


What you are describing is more like a technical form of ghostwriting. It is currently a matter of some debate whether ghostwriting ought to be also classified as plagiarism. Whether or not it is plagiarism, however, it is most certainly academically dishonest to use this person's work without acknowledgement. This is not a minor matter.

Moreover, if you did not disclose the help that you were getting to your supervisor and your committee, then it may be very serious indeed. Knowing about external help that you were getting might affect their judgement of whether you have done sufficient work to qualify for a Ph.D. In fact, if they did not know, and enough of your Ph.D. thesis was done by this tutor, it might even be appropriate for your degree to be retracted.

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    None of the thesis was written by the tutor; it is more that we discussed items e.g. a small amount of notation, and how to do plots in a certain way, I later used in the thesis. So it is more the technical knowledge I got from his tutoring I used, but did not acknowledge.
    – jhunter
    Feb 7, 2015 at 14:46
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    It is impossible to judge the magnitude of your tutor's contribution from what you have posted here. You say the tutor "implemented a statistical technique" that you suggested, and provided "plotting and statistical code to specification." That sounds like a lot more than discussion, and its level of importance cannot be judged without access to the technical document.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 7, 2015 at 14:50
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    It certainly was more than discussion, as he showed me examples of how to run a particlar statistical test, suggested some notation, and create plots I had done in one language in a new language. I had assumed that this was all acceptable input from a tutor (as I learned these techniques and took it from there).
    – jhunter
    Feb 7, 2015 at 14:58
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    @jhunter These are entirely acceptable inputs from a tutor. What's impossible to judge without actually seeing your thesis vs. those inputs is how much of your work they constituted. If they were trivial, then you have committed no sins besides discourtesy; if they constituted a significant part of your technical contribution, then maybe your Ph.D. should be revoked. In between is an incredibly huge grey area, which as I said, cannot be judged without actually seeing the two pieces of material.
    – jakebeal
    Feb 7, 2015 at 15:18
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    Not acknowledging can actually be more than discourtesy, e.g. one of the standard declarations of having done the work ourselves that is used around here goes roughly "I did get help from other people than those listed in the acknowledgements". Feb 7, 2015 at 18:00

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