I published three papers during my PhD, I'm now writing my thesis.

I have written three chapters, each based around each paper, but re-written so as not to fall foul of self-plagiarism rules. However, I've still used ALL of the figures from the publication in the chapters.

My concern is not really with this aspect of my thesis, though please tell me if I've misunderstood.

Finally, in the appendix, as reference, I have included the PDF files of my published papers, exactly as they are from the journal website.

Am I allowed to do this?

If not, am I allowed to use my own copies of the paper (e.g. the versions submitted on the arXiv)?

  • 1
    Even if the copyright agreements and university policies you are subject to allow you to reuse verbatim content and figures in your thesis, you should realize that the journal made an original contribution to those PDFs -- the final layout and typesetting and general prettiness. This is one difference between the arXiv version and the final version that's worth reflecting on.
    – user4512
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 4:24
  • 1
    Note, importantly, that rephrasing your old own work does not absolve you of charges of self plagiarism, nor is it actually required to avoid those charges. But it is the citing of the old work that makes it acceptable. You seem to have done that here, though in an odd way. Talk to your advisor. And make sure you know that you have enough rights retained after giving copyright to your publisher.
    – Buffy
    Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 20:06

7 Answers 7


I don't understand why you are repeating the same material twice in your thesis. Each of your three papers is re-cast in a separate chapter in your thesis, and then verbatim in an appendix.

You most likely have assigned your original copyright in your papers to the journal that published them.

I think adding the papers as an appendix is unnecessary, and may fall foul of the journal's copyright. The interested reader should be pointed to the journal article relating to each of the three chapters.

If you reproduce substantially the same figures as that which appears in the journal -- to whom you've presumably assigned the copyright in the figures -- then you will need to ask for a license to reproduce those figures.

  • 4
    It really depends on the journal. For all the ones I've worked with, the author is allowed to reuse images and text unchanged for presentations and in a thesis. But it's always very clearly stated by the journal so check closely!
    – tpg2114
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 1:07

Refer to the publisher's copyright agreement. It should detail exactly what types of reuse are allowed for authors.

Reproducing your published articles in your thesis is generally permitted and indeed some universities require it as part of the thesis. The only way to be sure is to directly check with the publisher(s) of your papers.

Here is an example from OUP Journals (source, emphasis mine):

Rights retained by ALL Oxford Journal authors

  • ...
  • The right to include the article in full or in part in a thesis or dissertation, provided that this is not published commercially;

For the uses specified here, please note that there is no need for you to apply for written permission from Oxford University Press in advance. Please go ahead with the use ensuring that a full acknowledgment is made to the original source of the material including the journal name, volume, issue, page numbers, year of publication, title of article and to Oxford University Press and/or the learned society.

Here it is very clear that you are allowed to reproduce your papers published by OUP in your thesis and are not required to ask for permission.

Check with the publishers of your papers. It is very likely they have something along these lines in their copyright agreements.

  • For most publishers that do not provide such a general statement (some major commercial ones do not), you can still request a material reuse. (Surprisingly, there is a link for this in much more cases than a blanko statement.) You'd need to fill in some details, in most cases you'd get a permission for free. Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 0:15
  • I wrote then something among the lines of either "XXXXX has been licensed to Association for Computing Machinery, but the author retained his copyright and is allowed to re-use it in his publications." or "YYYYY is Copyright © 2017 Springer~Nature. It has been reproduced with a kind permission of Springer~Nature." My reasoning is that with a permission and such a phase somewhere in the front matter you are quite airtight in the copyright department. Commented Sep 8, 2019 at 0:15

First of all, this is a topic you HAVE TO discuss with your supervisor, no matter what we will tell you here. The answer for me is clear: Use your papers in your thesis and use reference every time you are stating something important. It is important,before the abstract, use one page where you list your accepted papers (full description, including the publication), state your contribution (in case of multiple authors), and explain in a high level in which chapters you have used it. For the Figures, just use references.

" but re-written so as not to fall foul of self-plagiarism rules"....Try to realize the role of a conference paper, a journal paper and a chapter and it's really easy to avoid the self-plagiarism rules. Once you realize their differences, you will do many changes, especially to the first two and the last two sections. Believe me.

No need to add as an appendix your accepted papers. You just need to declare them in your references.


Plagiarism is passing other people's work as your own. Self plagiarism is reusing your own work, while passing it for new. From an ethical point of view, there is no problem in reusing the figures, provided you indicate it as reproduced from the paper.

The copyright issue is trickier. Technically, in most cases, the journal owns the copyright, and you are not allowed to distribute it or reuse your figures without their permission. But, as many institutions follow a sandwich thesis (that is, the body of the thesis are the papers verbatim), the copyright transfer agreement explicitly permits this reproduction. You should look at what you signed and see if it applies. Otherwise, you should ask the journal.

  • It's not about need. I would like to have my full papers included in my appendix.
    – ATTMK2
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 21:48
  • You are able to incorporate your published papers directly into your chapters if they are based on your thesis so long as you do not then attempt to publish your thesis as a book/ebook. See answer by me for further details.
    – awsoci
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:05
  • You should ask the journal, that's true. However, rumours say that many people attach papers to their theses without the publishers' consent.
    – yo'
    Commented Feb 20, 2015 at 0:21

The below response may or may not be helpful depending on the copyright laws of your university/country etc (this is based on Australia):

I just completed my PhD so I can enlighten you a bit, having published papers during the course of my PhD that was then used in the body of my thesis.

I published an article based on a chapter I had written, and then reincorporated that article back into my chapter (effectively 'updating' the chapter).

I didn't have to worry about any copyright issues regarding tables/figures/material nor did I have to cite the information.I was able to really just copy and paste it in. All I had to do was write in my acknowledgements:

Parts of ___ have been previously published as (insert citation here).

I was able to do this, because I chose to NOT publish my thesis as an ebook through the university (nor did I choose to publish it as a book). Your thesis is not considered a publication unless it is published as an academic book, or as an ebook (online copies through the library are not considered ebooks). This also meant that any pictures (of which I had plenty) only required citation information/source information, but I did not have to seek permission to use those images. If I wanted to publish the images in a paper or book, I would have to seek permission.

If you are planning to publish your thesis as an ebook or academic book, that is when you will run into self-plagiarism issues.

My advice? Do not opt to publish your thesis as an ebook/academic book. You've already published three papers (which is fantastic!) from your data, continue to go that route.

This means you can use as much as you want from your publications into your thesis.

Of course, this is the practice where I studied, as others have suggested, get in touch with your supervisor about these issues as well as the copyright experts (usually associated with the library).

Generally though, you don't have to worry about copyright regarding reincorporating your journal articles back into your thesis UNLESS you then decide to publish said thesis. You don't even need to cite the information you've used from your journal articles if they were formed from the data of your doctorate.

This is of course, based on the idea that your journal articles were based on your thesis chapters and are not too different/not relevant to your thesis.

  • In many places this is not an option. And I wouldn't advise it (except if there is sensitive data and other issues), if you took the time to write everything down, why not share it instead of burying in a drawer?
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:11
  • 2
    @Davidmh because for my particular thesis, it's better to publish the chapters in reputable journals, as opposed to as an ebook that no one is going to read. Publishing your thesis straight as an ebook is not a good route to go, it's not considered a reputable academic book by a quality press. When I say ebook, I mean that the library has a process in which it will 'publish' as is, but this isn't going to count as a quality publication. You are better to either, draft journal articles from chapters OR turn your thesis into a proper, academic book in which rewriting would undoubtedly occur.
    – awsoci
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:13
  • 1
    In the places I am familiar with, the university publishes the thesis, no matter what (in Sweden one physical copy is sent to every public library in the country even). Besides, the core of the content is published as articles elsewhere. To allow it, when publishing, you always add that exception clause in the copyright transfer.
    – Davidmh
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:20
  • 1
    In Australia, your thesis is not considered a 'publication' unless you actually sign a document that allows for it to be so, and this is usually as an ebook. Your physical copies are sent to the library and school library, but they are not considered publications nor are counted as such for ERA requirements. So, students who do publish journal articles during the course of their PhD are encouraged to reincorporate that material into their thesis (if it's relevant/based on the thesis). But this is the practice here, which of course as you have suggested, may not be the same elsewhere.
    – awsoci
    Commented Feb 19, 2015 at 23:25

An update on what I ended up doing: it turns out that most publishers will allow you to publish your own papers in your PhD thesis in full without any issue - I included all my papers, in their full published format and also in edited form in the Chapters, and this was covered by the copyright usage on the publisher websites.


The purpose of a thesis/dissertation: showcase the work you have done. It need not include substantial, new, unpublished work.

  • Organize your papers to tell the story of your graduate experience (one paper per chapter).

  • Add appropriate transition material.

  • Write an Introduction & Conclusion chapter.

  • Talk to your advisor.

Consider the following chapter-opening paragraph:

The following text in this chapter is my first publication [1] (Journal of Computation) which describes the method I developed for ...

Insert Title, Abstract, & Text of your 1st publication

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