I am writing an undergraduate dissertation and I have found some very good information from lecture handouts from other universities. Will using these lecture notes compared to official publications or other dissertations reflect my dissertation in a bad light? Of course I will source everything.

  • Is this an undergraduate or a postgraduate/graduate thesis dissertation? If the later, you should not be sourcing any lecture notes/text books, and instead source journal articles or academic books (not text books) where the key concepts originally came from, or are discussed at length. I know when I was writing, I had to source from articles, and I couldn't used 'as cited in,' I had to locate the original source.
    – awsoci
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 20:25
  • @awsoci its undergraduate
    – user30643
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 21:41
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    @awscoci that is highly field dependent. In some STEM fields it is considered good to cite classic text books from graduate and upper level undergraduate classes, especially if you are in one field and using a technique from another field. For example if you cited a paper from 1950 in the journal "annals of mathematics" in a biology thesis instead of the go to text book for learning that branch of mathematics, that would be considered unusual (of course citing both or citing the paper and writing "for a more gentle introduction see ..." or "for a review see..." is probably the best option). Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 22:13

2 Answers 2


I firmly believe that one should cite what one has used... and possibly more. To use a source and not cite it is simply dishonest and fails to give credit where it is due. At the same time, yes, one also wants official credibility, which usually entails citing refereed-journal publications (although the latter is not a promise of correctness, either). If nothing else, citing refereed-journal publications is expected, so doing it is doing what one is expected to do.

(Lecture notes are not always mere echoing of textbooks or journal articles.)

So, cite both the actual source you used, and find "cite-able" sources to accompany, so you'll be both honest (and explanatory) and "formally correct".

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    I agree with this, in addition, I like to go with giving the reader as much information as possible about which type of reader will be more suited for looking at which reference. For example, I like the phrasing "We used method XY and Z first developed by John Doe (credible citation). For an insightful, but less technical, review of these methods, see (citation for the less citable but more readable work you may have used)." This gives credit to where credit is due and also gives the reader a better idea for which citation they personally would rather look at. Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 22:22

You probably shouldn't source a concept key to your thesis from some unreviewed, posted on some website lecture notes. If the concept turns out to be wrong, the data unreproducible, or anything else comes up, your entire dissertation could be called into question.

Your best bet is to try to find a textbook or peer-reviewed publication which the author used to create the lecture notes and cite that. Look in the notes themselves for references, and then look at the publications of the author of the notes. If you don't find something in one of those places, write the author and ask them for something citable. Also, start searching the internet for related concepts. You might even ask a professional librarian at your institution for help tracking down a good source.

  • ok, all the key maths mathematical concepts and the "backbone" of the dissertation has come from books and papers from leading and pioneering professionals in that field. Its just a few definitions and well known concepts that I was looking up. They were explained much better.
    – user30643
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 18:08
  • You might be OK writing it up saying that the definitions and preliminary concepts were "adapted from lecture notes of Prof. XXXXX" and giving the citation, but I would want to see a citation to a more reliable source. It depends a little on how "well known" these concepts and definitions really are. If they are very well known, traditional even, then you are probably OK. E.g., I don't think you need to cite the definition of the derivative of a function in order to write a paper describing a numerical method for PDEs unless there's something about it core to your method. Etc.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 18:20
  • The definitions and concepts are ancient and really well known.
    – user30643
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 18:58
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    Then I think you're OK adapting, paraphrasing, or otherwise reusing the explanation you found in the notes as long as you make clear that the words aren't your own with some sort of preface and cite the work as best you can. I would still write to the prof and ask if they have a more citable source.
    – Bill Barth
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 19:18
  • That is exactly what I am doing. Finding explanations and then writing it in my own words and referencing everything.
    – user30643
    Commented Mar 8, 2015 at 21:35

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