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I have recently completed a dissertation and have been encouraged to publish the work.

My dilemma is that I find it quite difficult (and painfully tedious) to rewrite the same thing couched in new language. Whereas I don't plan to copy and paste the whole thing verbatim, it would be nice to take chunks of the original text here and there, and proceed to break-apart, edit, and reassemble the bits and pieces to create a newly condensed version of the dissertation.

How does one go about this whilst avoiding self-plagiarising?

It would seem sensible to make generous reference to the fact that the paper is derived from the dissertation. However, does one really have to effectively rewrite everything and reference every last page and figure from the original text?

Thanks.

34

The dissertation is not a published work in the same sense as a journal or conference paper. It is normal for a recent graduate to take large chunks of their thesis, with minimal or no modification, and use the excerpts in more formal publications. You do not need to worry about self plagiarism in this context.

The copying often goes the other way as well. If you already have published papers when it's time to write your dissertation, you may take large chunks of the published papers and reuse them in the dissertation. In some fields (mathematics or theoretical physics, for example), this is quite commonplace. People talk about "stapling your papers together" to make a thesis. In reality, there is more to it than that. Introductory and concluding material are needed, but many theses have chapters that are based on published manuscripts, with relatively little editing.

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    Is there any rationale for your first paragraph? – Thomas May 26 '15 at 8:02
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    The rules for theses and dissertations at virtually all reputable institutions allow for publication of the all or part of the document in a journal or book. In the humanities, for example, it is standard for young academics to base their first book on their doctoral dissertation. – Buzz May 26 '15 at 20:54
15

That's completely normal, as others have noted. In older papers you often see a footnote: "Parts of this work have been submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for [degree], at [institution]". Perhaps you can add that for full disclosure.

2

As others have stated, don't worry about it. It is an accepted practice to re-use as-is significant portions of your dissertation in a published paper, as long as it has not been published previously.

A somewhat extreme case of this is the thesis by publication format, whereby the core of a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation is made of one (for master's thesis) or more (for doctoral dissertation) papers either already published or submitted for publication. Some universities and thesis supervisors actually encourage this as it increases the publication count without too much added effort.

As an example of this, see my own master's thesis. Chapter 4 of this thesis is a paper which, at the time the thesis was written, had been submitted for publication but had not yet been accepted (since published). Even though the rest of the thesis is in French, the paper chapter itself is in English, which is the language in which the paper was submitted for publication.

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Plagiarism (n): the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.

By definition, you cannot plagarise your own content. Make one reference to your dissertation and don't worry about it.

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    Self-plagiarism is a real thing, but it doesn't really apply to dissertations being plagiarized into articles. – Bill Barth May 26 '15 at 1:27
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    @Bill: Well, there is something called "self-plagiarism", but it isn't actually a form of plagiarism at all, it's another type of error. Copyright infringement, perhaps (this is not a problem for a dissertation, since normally the student retains copyright, and it certainly has not been transferred to a publisher, at worst the school has some claim), or failure to disclose prior publication (which Stefano's suggested verbiage takes care of). – Ben Voigt May 26 '15 at 14:37
  • Self-plagiarism also exists in educational settings where a student reuses an unpublished essay or other class submission from one class to the next where new work is expected. I think you got down voted here due to your categorical statement that you cannot plagiarize your own content. We have three examples here in these comments between you and I of how one can plagiarize oneself. Your understanding is non-standard and misleading. – Bill Barth May 26 '15 at 14:53

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