I frequently come across PhD dissertations that have spawned multiple journal papers, either while the author was working towards their Ph.D. or after completion. My field is not one with "stapler" dissertations that merely collate a number of papers, so there are often differences between the details of the paper and those of the dissertation.

However, often there are claims/statements/arguments that are present in both sources, so which should I prefer to reference? Should I cite the earlier reference? The later one? Or are there other issues I should consider?

Personally, I tend to prefer to cite the most recent work, as it is likely to be the most updated and correct. There is also a good argument to be made for citing the peer-reviewed version (as long as it isn't too much older).

In general, however, if the two sources are very similar it doesn't matter much which one you cite. There is also no particular need to cite more than one, and I tend to feel it's better to cite only one when the material is basically the same, so that it doesn't look like you're claiming more support than actually exists.

  • I wouldn't assume that the thesis is correct if it's been updated from the paper - the approach may have been extended in a way which isn't quite as applicable as it seems. – Chris H Apr 14 '16 at 15:26
  • @ChrisH You also shouldn't assume the published paper is correct, just because it's been peer-reviewed. You should evaluate either in much the same fashion. – jakebeal Apr 14 '16 at 16:10
  • I don't. But it's passed through another level of scrutiny (assuming the supervisor did their job properly in both cases). This is particularly helpful when the work is at the edge of your skill set and you have to take some elements a bit more on trust than you'd like. Coauthors' input is particularly good at catching the crucial typos that change the meaning,and these are lacking in theses – Chris H Apr 14 '16 at 16:33

There are a few reasons to cite the published paper (assuming you're writing a paper and not a thesis yourself):

  • Citing peer-reviewed work may carry more weight (especilly true if it's a masters thesis.
  • The citation trail is maintained (most journals online now link the citations making them clickable, this doesn't work so well for theses)
  • Thesis availability online is patchy - if you're citing a thesis from someone you know, that thesis may not yet be online meaning your citation can't include a link.
  • Theses don't generally have a DOI (mine can be downloaded from a national online database but they don't appear to assign DOIs themselves).

The main reason I can see to cite a thesis is that often more detail is given on the actual implementation. So you may actually want to cite both in some cases.

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