I am a bachelor student. I have been working with a PhD on an article. So the article was supposed to be co-authored; however, he was mainly going to edit my draft so it can be published. This is, the content of the article was actually my work, while the edition was going to be his part. I have e-mails with all the drafts I have sent to him until the final draft of the article. In these e-mails, one can see that he mainly suggested me to clarify some ideas or was trying to understand the ideas I was pointing out.

On the other hand, we have stopped working together. Thereby I sent him an e-mail, by recommendation of a professor, asking him if he had any inconvenience if I used my drafts for my bachelor thesis (in my country one first obtains the bachelor degree and then one must present the thesis). He answered that my drafts remain my work and that because of this I am free to use them.

The question which I would like to ask is if there would be any inconvenience if I wanted to publish this draft in a journal as long as it is actually my work. People have told me that as long as I have this e-mail where he is recognizing that my drafts remain my work, I would have no inconvenience, however, I wonder if this is enough for I did not ask him about using my drafts for publishing but just for my bachelor thesis.

I am wondering if he could accuse me of plagiarism if I would publish my work. I think that he could not do so because he has written to me that my drafts are my work and thereby I am free to use them. Besides this I have all the e-mails wherewith I could prove that the drafts are totally my production and that his contribution was mainly motivation and making me some suggestions or comments so that I can better clarify myself. Would that be enough in order I can publish my work without any fear of being accused of plagiarism?

Sending him an e-mail asking him directly is not really an option, for the relationship of work has gone deadly bad.

  • 3
    Could you please add a few linebreaks in your text to create paragraphs? As it is, this text is not very readable. Jul 18, 2015 at 19:32
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    in my country one first obtains the bachelor degree and then one must present the thesis – Just curious: What is the motivation for people who do not plan to stay in academia to present the thesis then?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 19, 2015 at 9:44
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    Your question sounds fine until the very last sentence the relationship of work has gone deadly bad.. It seems to me there is some context missing. When did it become bad? Why is it deadly bad?
    – Nobody
    Jul 19, 2015 at 11:46
  • I think you are mainly trying to figure out how to cover your A. Which is a very sensible question.... One thing that might help would be to take the high ground, and write a gracious acknowledgment mentioning him by name, in both the thesis and the journal article.... It's a small world, and you don't know when this guy might come back to haunt you in the future. Jul 19, 2015 at 17:06
  • @scaaahu, Without entering in too much detail, after some disagreements, he sent me two insulting e-mails and I have never wrote such type of e-mails to him.So it is useless to ask him anything else.
    – Lalo
    Jul 20, 2015 at 3:22

3 Answers 3


Based on what you said I have the impression that you are the main contributor to this work and he only had some editorial comments. Therefore, you publishing this work, cannot be classified as plagiarism. (If you think his contribution was sufficient for him to expect you to give him some credit (e.g. second author) then you have to be careful because it may cause further complications between you and him. Besides, it is your responsibility to make sure he gets the credit he deserves)

Most of the times people won't actually act against each other in situations like this. I remember a few years ago, I was stuck in a situation where someone decided to publish a team work with his name as the first author, while it was clear to everybody that he was not the major contributor. My adviser sat me down and told me to let it go (and I accepted because he had good reasons). What I'm trying to say is that in cases like this your supervisor would usually mediate and smooths things out before it gets serious.

However, I think the chances of him even trying to accuse you of plagiarism are very slim. But even so, if you publish this work before him, he needs to have enough evidence that he had major contribution to the work. I assume that this is not the case and it is clear from the emails that were sent to you.

I suggest you to simply let your adviser know that you will try to publish this work and don't worry about the PhD student.


Your issue is rather one of authorship than of plagiarism and thus accusations of neglecting the PhD student in terms of authorship are what you should be worrying about.

First, you should ask yourself whether the PhD student’s contribution qualify him for authorship. For this, he would have to contributed intellectually to the science behind the paper – improving the explanations and writing does not count. Note that general ideas of what to research may be counted as this. For further information, I suggest that you browse . What you are describing sounds very much like the PhD should not be an author, though.

If you come to the conclusion that the PhD student should be an author, things become difficult, as most standards and journal policies require him to affirm the manuscript you will be going to submit, which may lead to all sorts of problems given your bad relationship.

If you come to the conclusion that the PhD should not be an author, you should only acknowledge him for “critical comments on previous versions of the manuscript” or something similar. You are doing nothing wrong in terms of laws, regulations or ethics when publishing the paper without him as an author¹. However, you taking some precautions to defend against possible accusations of stealing authorship may be a good idea:

  • If the PhD student makes any claims of authorship, he has to back them up somehow. If those claims are wrong, he should only be able to do so by witness accounts of his alleged intellectual contributions. Probably the only plausible source of such accounts is your immediate research surrounding, i.e., supervisors, colleagues and similar. Thus you should ask yourself whether it is possible that they side with the PhD student on that matter.

  • All your e-mail correspondence is certainly helpful as it should very well document that the PhD student was only involved in writing, e.g., if he asked questions on the actual content of your research.

¹ A problem may arise, if the PhD student actually wrote entire sentences. In this case, he could qualify for legal authorship in terms of copyright. However, my understanding of your question is that this is not the case. Even if it is, his contract or specifics of the relevant copyright laws may solve this issue.


It is irrelevant whether you have any emails from anyone permitting you to use text. If you publish your bachelor's thesis and a journal article and there is text overlap between the two, someone may notice and may publish a review -- either in a journal or online -- noting that this can be construed to be plagiarism. One must strive for the utmost transparency in scientific writing. You could either publish the paper first, and then include it as part of the thesis, or you submit the thesis first and refer to it in the journal article. In that case you do not want there to be text identity. You are summarizing in your journal article.

Do make sure that you are not publishing with a predatory publisher that does not do rigorous peer review but only takes money for putting an article online.

The PhD you mentioned is not an author, and should not be listed as such, if they are only editing. You thank them in the acknowledgements, but only those who did the research and the writing should be listed as authors (see the Vancouver protocol).

  • The scenario you mentioned could probably better be called self-plagiarism. In any case, the author should check with the journal's policies to see if such a "double" publication is allowed.
    – mdd
    Jul 18, 2015 at 20:28
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    I don't buy the argument that there cannot be text identity. In many fields, students' PhD theses are essentially first drafts of eventual journal publications. The journal publications should ideally cite the thesis, of course, but I think that few would consider this an example of even self-plagiarism. The real issue in this question is the relation with the collaborator.
    – Corvus
    Jul 18, 2015 at 20:38
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    I strongly second @Corvus' viewpoint. In many fields (e.g., mine, mathematics), indeed, a thesis is often a verbose draft of an eventual journal article. Nothing is "claimed" about the thesis to "gain status" that would compete with or be double-dipping with a journal article, in mathematics. In other fields, I don't know how people interpret things. It's certainly not an absolute, no matter how strongly held or widely held various viewpoint may be. Jul 18, 2015 at 20:57
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    To add to this: The central issue about self-plagiarism is that you claim texts to be independent and new that actually aren’t. Such claims are usually implicitly made by one accepting the journal’s conditions (which disallow publishing something that has been published before) or the exam regulations (which disallow using one piece of work for two degrees). Except for the unlikely case that the thesis was actually published, this does not apply here. And even then, many journals make exceptions for such cases. It’s no self-plagiarism for the same reason that publishing a preprint isn’t.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jul 19, 2015 at 9:55
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    @DeboraWeber-Wulff I don't see how a dissertation composed of papers that went through peer review at a legitimate journal could possibly be more troubling than a dissertation that was seen only by a dissertation committee who may or may have read it.
    – Corvus
    Jul 20, 2015 at 7:59

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