Not much literature can be found on what I'm working on and it's all by the people I work with. Am I able to reference their work/text in my thesis or I should just stick to referencing material published in journals and conferences, however remote they might be and just get away with whatever's not published and not back them up?

  • Also see this question Can you cite other master's theses when writing your own?
    – gman
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 10:21
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    Why would you think it wouldn't be okay? If the information is available there, why not use it? Commented May 22, 2015 at 13:52
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    If you use someone's previous work, you must cite it. No exceptions. It is completely irrelevant whether that previous work appears in a journal, conference proceedings, PhD dissertation, technical report, arXiv preprint, working paper, lecture notes, newspaper article, TED talk, StackExchange comment, or cocktail napkin.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 14:42
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    I cited three PhD dissertations and two Masters dissertations as part of my Masters dissertation. Reference it like you'd reference any other publication. In fact, I also cited a lecturer's powerpoint slides. Actually, now that I think about it, I cited my own previous work at one point too. Every source is valid so long as you reference it. That's not to say that every source necessarily carries weight, of course. You have to evaluate the source. But from a citation point of view, it's all good. Commented May 22, 2015 at 15:01

5 Answers 5


Yes, you are able to reference their work in your text, as long as you make clear in the bibliography what type of document (master thesis, PhD thesis, Institution) it is.

However, i would not consider it to be ideal if your work critically depends on such references in the sense that a central assumption or starting point in your thesis breaks down if the reference provides false or incomplete results. Particularly in the case of master theses / dissertations it is not generally clear whether and to which extent they are peer-reviewed and what their overall trustworthiness is. With (accepted!) PhD theses things are better, as these normally go through a review process. Furthermore, for PhD theses i would expect that their main points have been published somewhere (conference or journal) and then you clearly should prefer these publications.

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    +1. I have cited MSc theses in journal papers and that was not a problem either. As you say it was not something the paper critically depended on; in my case it was to raise a point in the Discussion section.
    – user8458
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 6:30
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    There's a reasonable argument to be made that it's unwise to depend critically on anything you can't verify - including things in peer-reviewed papers, which have been known to be wrong. Ultimately, peer review is just as much a human activity as anything else, and is prone to error - the best that can be said of a peer-reviewed paper is that it has been checked by somebody of unknown experience for an unknown amount of time. In many cases, people put a lot of effort into peer review, but that's not always the case, and even when it is, errors creep in. You're well-advised to check yourself. Commented May 22, 2015 at 8:12

This is really an addendum to the two previous answers, but nevertheless it is still answer-worthy IMO.

It is mostly true that with PhD theses, the crux of the stuff is generally published in journals etc. so that those count as more reliable sources (I dare say primary sources). However, it is not necessarily true that this will always be so. For instance, I am aware that at least in Theoretical Physics, University of Bielefeld is an example of an institution where it is not mandatory to have the stuff written in the thesis published. Theses are judged for what they contain and whether or not that represents an original contribution to the subject. I am using this only as an example, the general statement is - it is possible for a PhD thesis to contain original stuff which is otherwise unpublished. And at any rate, it is possible to have stuff written more elaborately than in the published papers (mine is an example). (Occasionally, this might also be because some letters journals have stringent limits on word counts and/or pages, so people shrink stuff there and feed out many more details in the thesis).

Thus, there is no harm in citing a PhD thesis, provided you mention that it is what it is.

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    "not mandatory to have the stuff written in the thesis published" - in particular, all the stuff. In fact, at my university it is mandatory to publish some parts of your research before writing your doctoral thesis, but at the same time, it is also mandatory that the doctoral thesis contains more than just the sum of all previous publications. Commented May 22, 2015 at 8:03

If others have completed theses or dissertations related to the topic you are studying, I would definitely cite them. While writing my MA thesis, there were very few peer-reviewed publications available in the particular region I was working in but there were a number of recently completed theses and dissertations. Some of these were excellent and provided great data to support my own arguments, while others were of lower quality and were not cited. As long as you're critical of the content and argument of these documents you should be fine.


As with most referencing questions, you have to consider what you're depending on them for. If it's a matter of "further details on the previous experiment", a thesis is likely to go into much more depth than a paper and is the best you're likely to get. If it's "so-and-so proved that..." you should really be looking for something peer-reviewed. Most cases will fall in between, and then you need to use your judgement and be clear what you're citing.


you shouldn't quote a master's Thesis because they are typically not published. only published work should be cited in a research work. If it hasn't been published no one is responsible for the Content

  • And if they are published? Your whole argument builds on this (false IMHO) assumption.
    – Mayou36
    Commented Jul 2, 2019 at 7:06

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