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Previously Published Works in a Dissertation or Thesis

Using your own previously published works: A guide

As you begin work on your ETD, you may wish to incorporate part or all of another related work you have previously published. Before using the related work, you should remember to do three things:

1. Check

First, determine whether you have the right to use your previously published work. You may think “Since I wrote it, of course I have the right,” but that might not be the case. Before publication, you likely signed a publisher’s agreement that waived some of your rights to your own work. In some cases, you may have given up everything! Every agreement is different, so if you want to use your previously published work you should first check the publishing agreement you signed to confirm what rights you still have. Some publishing agreements specifically allow for re-publication in a dissertation. Others may state a certain time period before you can republish. Scroll down to Resources and Examples for examples of copyright transfer agreements.

2. Ask

Next, if you had co-written your previously published work, you may need to ask your co-authors if it is okay to use the work in your dissertation.

3. Cite

Finally, if you use your own previously published work, you must cite it. You should check your publishing agreement because it might specify the format of the citation. If your publishing agreement does not specify, please use a standard citation style (APA, MLA, etc.). Not citing a work, even if it is your own, is a form of plagiarism unacceptable in academia.

What if I do not have permission to use my previously published works?

First, try to get permission. Most journals provide contact information specifically for this purpose. Contact the journal or publisher and explain that you would like to use your work for a dissertation/thesis. You may adapt the text of the sample letter below.

The journal or publisher may request that you only include a certain portion of your work, or place other restrictions on its use. 

If your publisher denies permission, you still have options. While what you published is copyrighted, the data behind your study is not. You can go back to your data and use it to rewrite some of your findings.  Then you may, of course, reference and cite this new work like any other. 

If you do rewrite some of your findings for your dissertation, be sure you do not express your ideas in the same way as in the previously published work. Think of how the film West Side Story tells the same tale as Romeo and Juliet: same story, different expression.

Next Steps:

After you have made sure that you have permission to use your previously published work, how do you proceed? 

  1. Your ETD must include a statement indicating the dissertation/thesis is based on a previously published work (a journal article, conference proceeding, etc.) in full or in part. This statement  should appear on a separate page in the front of your dissertation/thesis document.
  2. If the work was co-authored, include a statement indicating the author has the permission of the co-authors to use the materials in the dissertation/thesis. The full bibliographic citation of the work should appear immediately after that statement and in the bibliography. Please check your publisher agreement for any citation guidelines.

You are required to place the statements from Steps 1 and 2 before the abstract of your full dissertation. In the case of a three-essay format, place the information immediately prior to the abstract for that specific essay.

Sample Text: 

This dissertation/thesis is based in [full or part] on the previously published article(s)/book chapter(s) listed below. [If you have co-authors, include the statement:] I have permission from my co-authors/publishers to use the work(s) listed below in my dissertation/thesis. Copies of all copyright permissions are in Appendix X of this document. [Place your journal or book chapter citation here].

3. Place copyright permissions from publishers, thesis endorsements/copies of written and/or signed statements of permission from your co-authors in the last appendix of the document. Copies of emails from publishers or co-authors are acceptable.

Resources and Examples

Sample Copyright Transfer Agreements

This sample Taylor & Francis agreement specifically gives the author the right to publish their work as part of a thesis/dissertation. Note that while permission has been given to use the work in a dissertation, it must be a non-commercial dissertation [note Section 4(viii)]. If your agreement contains language similar to the above, please contact Valerie Emerson at etds@gwu.edu before submitting your ETD.

The Optical Society agreement above provides for the full transfer of rights and is completely silent about dissertations. Therefore, someone who published with this society must get permission from them before using the work in a dissertation. 

This John Wiley & Sons agreement specifically allows for the reuse of published material in another publication provided that the reused material doesn’t make up more than 50% of the new publication. [Section C(2)(b)]

Questions about Copyright?

You may make an appointment with Barrett Matthews (Gelman Library Compliance Officer, Copyright & Scholarly Communications​).