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I wrote a Master's thesis a couple of years ago (which is available to view from my University's online service; so it's out there) and am now doing a PhD. Some passages from my Master's thesis is relevant to my PhD and could be used in my PhD literature review. If it matters, the masters thesis is not published and I am studying in a UK university.

Am I allowed to copy chunks of text from my masters thesis into my PhD thesis?

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    What did your advisor/supervisor say when you asked her/him? – D.W. Mar 12 '15 at 22:15
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    @D.W. - Basically what Johanna said, it's fine to quote your work and use some of the same images (referenced correctly) but no copying/pasting. Which is understandable :) – Joseph Mar 13 '15 at 9:57
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No. It's called self-plagiarism. You can of course cite results from your Master's thesis, and even quote it, but only if you clearly indicate the source. That it wasn't published doesn't make a difference.

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    Thanks Johanna, I'm glad I asked this before doing anything! – Joseph Mar 12 '15 at 14:55
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I did my PhD studies in Sweden. In Sweden it is common to write two theses: a licentiate thesis after roughly 2 years, and a PhD thesis at the end. The second one is a natural extension of the first one, so this question came up. One person said one should rephrase everything, but we thought this was silly. Instead, I wrote a preface in my PhD thesis with the following:

This text can be considered a continuation of the so-called licentiate thesis (Holl, 2011). In the Swedish academic system, the licentiate thesis is a thesis very similar in structure to the PhD thesis, that PhD candidates are encouraged to write approximately halfway through their PhD studies. A lot of the material published here was already published in the licentiate thesis.

Self-plagiarism occurs if you claim information is new, when you've already used it before. Therefore, if you write something like this in a preface, you are not committing self-plagiarism.

However, you should still check if your university has any rules against it.

  • Very interesting, thank you! And an excellent tip, I have sent an email to the required party in dealing with PhDs in our university to clarify what is/isn't allowed. Out of curiosity - for your PhD thesis at the end, did you have to repeat some of the work from your licentiate thesis or did it only contain new information? – Joseph Mar 12 '15 at 15:44
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    @Joseph Both theses were in the form of a sandwich thesis, i.e. a collection of (co-)authored journal articles with an introduction. Articles part of my licentiate thesis were also included in my PhD thesis (two identical, one with revision), and large parts of the text were almost identical. You can download both documents (and my master thesis, which was again similar but not close enough to require such a disclaimer) through my PhD group publications page. – gerrit Mar 12 '15 at 16:02
  • Awesome, thanks gerrit. The subject looks very interesting. I like this quote in your Acknowledgments: "Virtually no work is ever done alone. Human work is cooperative and the work resulting in this thesis is no exception". Quite right :) – Joseph Mar 12 '15 at 16:09
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    I find that a decent rule of thumb is that almost anything is ok in academic publications as long as you're utterly clear,open and honest about it. – Murphy Mar 13 '15 at 14:58
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    @Murphy: +1. I reviewed once a thesis which had a copied/pasted page from a publication (with an authorization from the author and clear citations) and the author added in a footnote that this is by far the best explanation he read and does not see any reason to phrase it differently (that was in an introductory chapter). I was very fine with that. – WoJ Mar 13 '15 at 15:39
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In UK, this was strictly not allowed (I had asked a similar question to my guide on my Masters thesis). As Johanna correctly says, it is considered "self plagiarism" (you copied from yourself!) and while I do not agree with it, this is a common criteria.

For the same reason, you are not allowed to take any article / essay written by you earlier, and use it in your PhD thesis or your Masters research thesis.

The rationale, I believe, is that each work during your studies should be original and unique, different from what you have written earlier. It cannot build up on your earlier work (at least in the written word - in thoughts of course you have all through been building up on your past knowledge and learning)

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This is a matter for local policies at the university in question.

At the university I got my PhD from you are required to declare what (if any) material in your thesis have been submitted for previous qualifications in the thesis front matter. The examiners will presumablly take that into consideration when deciding if you have done a sufficient ammount of new work.

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