A colleague of mine who worked on the same project retired one year ago. I would like to use some of the data he measured and reproduce some of his figures. He gathered the data while performing a routine analysis of our raw material e.g binding kinetics or adsorption isotherms. In general, nothing groundbreaking. Unfortunately, he did not publish the particular dataset. As a consequence, I cannot cite him.

How can I use that data without being accused of plagiarism or fraud. Of course, I will ask him for the permission to use that data.

Would you state that in the introduction or the figure legend? And what would you write?


I forgot to mention that I will write my Thesis as a monograph and publish it later.

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    I would probably add him as an author since the data contributed to your current work.
    – PatW
    Apr 17, 2015 at 16:23
  • You should edit the title - I read it as "he retired in order to avoid being accused of fraud or plagiarism"! But maybe it's just too early for me.
    – OJFord
    Apr 18, 2015 at 9:48
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    (Bob colleague, unpublished) Apr 18, 2015 at 10:52
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    If your colleague would be willing to publish the data set on a repository like figshare, you would be able to cite it and this becomes a moot point. With his consent, you could actually do the manual work of setting up an account for him and then organizing and uploading the data under his account, if he doesn't want to do it himself.
    – David Z
    Apr 18, 2015 at 16:40
  • No way we can do that. We signed a confidentiality agreement.
    – Moritz
    Apr 18, 2015 at 16:44

4 Answers 4


As PatW says in a comment: the general correct action in this case is coauthorship. This gets a little bit trickier with a thesis, which does not typically allow coauthors per se. For the thesis, the thing you should do is give explicit credit where the data is introduced. If it corresponds with the practices of your field, you can also put in a citation to your colleague as an unpublished document or personal communication.

When you republish this material as a journal manuscript or other conventional form that allows multiple authors, however, your colleague should be amongst the set of coauthors.

  • Maybe a paragraph in the introduction, in which I declare what data/graph was produced by my colleague? Or really at the point the data is used?
    – Moritz
    Apr 18, 2015 at 11:13
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    @Moritz Depends on how exactly the data is being used. For example, if it's fundamental to the work and used throughout, then put it in the introduction. If it's only for a particular aspect of the work, then when you start dealing with that aspect. The guiding principle is: declare your colleague's work in the place where you normally would put the citation.
    – jakebeal
    Apr 18, 2015 at 11:21
  • This approach is very common in my field (bioinformatics) , where it is frequently the case where one student will analyse the data produced by another. In this case neither student could get anywhere without the other. Feb 22, 2023 at 8:29
  • It is usual to change the declaration from something like "I declare that the work within is entirely my own" to add "except where explicitly specified". A note on who did work not your own in the acknowledgements would also be good. Feb 22, 2023 at 8:32

The other answers have dealt with the possibility of co-authorship. This is field specific; in some fields co-authorship is readily given, in others it requires more than just contributing some data. So if the amount of data you use means that co-authorship is not really appropriate, or it if is not an option because you are writing a thesis rather than a paper, it is still no major issue, because referencing unpublished materials is actually very routine! For details you should look in your field's appropriate referencing style guide.

If the data is available as an unpublished document, then it should be referenced as normal, but usually with some annotation. In MLA, it will be MS (handwritten manuscript) or TS (typescript):

Author. Title. Date. TS. Institution.

If you have access to the raw data but not as a document, then it should be referenced as a personal communication. In MLA these are also referenced, but other referencing systems may recommend just appending (p.c.) after the author's name and not listing it in the final bibliography. For example in MLA:

Author. Letter to the author. Date. TS.


The simplest answer I can give you: Talk about it to your supervisor.

Beyond that I can mention two examples from my own experience: In my master's thesis there's an acknowledgment to a colleague of mine who helped with the research by organising copies and scans from original documents. He also assessed the content of many of those Mss. Hours of work I would have had to do. I put a paragraph at the beginning, stating what he did and thanking him for it.

Right now I "coauthor" a bachelor's thesis. He does some research on something related to Islam but cannot yet speak Arabic, so I do the translation work for him. He will also just put a small paragraph at the beginning, stating that I did the translations for him.


Given it hasn't been published, nobody can prove plagiarism. Being accused of it isn't your problem. Your problem is how to support the claims without a formal citation.

I suggest that after obtaining permission you include the entire work as an appendix. Attribute it to your colleague and preface it with a note that it is the previously unpublished work of a retired colleague included with permission. Then you can reference the appendix.

It's verifiable, his work can be peer reviewed at the same time as yours and you haven't implied you did the work. Better yet if anyone wants to quote him they'll have to cite you.

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