ETD Publishing Concerns

Some chapters in my thesis/dissertation/project were previously published as journal articles; will that cause any problems?
If you want to include previously published material like a journal article in your thesis/dissertation/project, you will have to be sure, first, that your thesis/dissertation/project committee agrees and, second, that the agreement you signed with the publisher allows this reuse of the article.

Publication agreements for journal articles are binding contracts and often limit what you can do with your work once it is published. They should ALWAYS be read very carefully. If your publication agreement allows you to incorporate the article in question in your own future works, then it can be included in the dissertation. If the agreement allows you to distribute the published work through an institutional web site, then there is no obstacle to using that article as a chapter in your electronic thesis/dissertation.

If your publication agreement did not allow you to retain these rights to your published work (many do, but some do not), you should contact the publisher to get special permission for these activities. A signed release that will permit incorporation of your article into the final electronic thesis/dissertation may be available.

Sometimes a publisher will place access restrictions on digital availability of your work after it has been published, perhaps by requiring that any digital version be available only on the campus of your university, for example. If this is the case, you may need to have two versions of your thesis/dissertation – one with the chapter in question (the published article) included and one with it removed and replaced with a reference (and perhaps a hyperlink) to the publisher’s print or online version.

Since copyright law protects only expression and not the underlying ideas, this problem can be avoided if, instead of incorporating the published article into your thesis/dissertation, you discuss the research underlying that article in a different way. This is often a sensible alternative to accommodate both copyright law and the longer and more discursive format of a thesis/dissertation.

Will online distribution of my thesis/dissertation/project harm my ability to publish some chapters as articles or a book based upon it?
We realize that some students revise their thesis/dissertation/project to create a book or journal article for publication early in their academic careers. In these situations, it is advisable to think about restricting access (see embargo options) to your electronic thesis/dissertation/project and also to become familiar with publication policies in your field.

Usually, a thesis/dissertation must be significantly revised as part of the process of creating a publishable monograph. Most book publishers insist on extensive editorial revisions before a thesis/dissertation/project is suitable for publication, and many publishers also state clearly that electronic distribution of your thesis/dissertation/project does not count as previous publication such as to prevent later publication of a monograph or journal articles. But publisher policies vary a great deal, and it is wise to become familiar with the policies within your field as you consider how you can best exploit the work you have put into your thesis/dissertation/project.

For monographs, it sometimes appears that electronic release of an early version of the work as an electronic thesis/dissertation/project can lead to greater sales of the later book. Having a digital version of your thesis/dissertation available on the Internet, and being able to tell a potential publisher about the large number of “hits” on that electronic version, may even help you land a book contract.

If potential publishers in your field do object to prior distribution of your work on the internet (and this is more likely if you wish to publish chapters as journal articles without significant alterations), you will probably want to embargo your electronic thesis/dissertation until those portions have been submitted and accepted for publication. At that point you can negotiate with the publisher and agree on ways to make your thesis/dissertation available without harming sales of the journal in question.

The Boyce Digital Repository electronic thesis and dissertation collections supports 6 month, 1 year and 2 year embargoes, which are the same embargo options available to you through the ProQuest thesis/dissertation system. These options are available at the time of submission to ProQuest.

What else should I know about signing agreements with publishers?
When you have your research published in a conference proceeding, book, or journal, you usually sign some type of agreement with the publisher. You should read that agreement carefully before signing, making sure you UNDERSTAND AND AGREE with the terms and conditions. If you don’t, you may want to change the agreement in connection with discussion/negotiation with the publisher, and possibly with advice of legal or other counsel. The agreement should be explicit about what future rights of use you retain. If you want to include the materials in a thesis/dissertation or to reuse the materials for teaching or a book chapter, say so.

As the author you are entitled to discuss your plans with the publisher. We encourage you to obtain an agreement that allows you to include your research in a freely available electronic thesis or dissertation.

During these negotiations you may want to discuss matters of timing and revision with the potential publisher. As described above, Boyce Digital Repository (and ProQuest) can embargo availability of your electronic thesis/dissertation for up to two years. You may wish to do this if the publisher requests it as a condition to publishing your article. However, as we have already said, many publishers consider a thesis or dissertation to be quite different from a journal article or monograph. Monographs are usually extensively revised, and a typical journal article is much shorter than a thesis/dissertation/project chapter and is also revised as a result of the editorial process and peer review. The result is that many publishers have no concern regarding fully accessible ETDs.

More information and some links to policies and research about electronic theses/dissertations/project and the possibilities for subsequent publication can be found on the web site of the Networked Digital Library of Electronic Theses and Dissertations at

The content on this page was adapted with the permission of the Duke University Graduate School.