Image by Jack Grahl, Dept of Mathematics

Guidance on inclusion of published work in doctoral theses and self-plagiarism

This guidance relates specifically to doctoral candidates who have concerns about what material can be included, e.g. papers that have been previously published, in their final thesis and how it should be correctly incorporated.

In Chapter 6, Section 9.2d of the Academic Manual, self-plagiarism is defined as:

“the reproduction or resubmission of a student’s own work which has been submitted for assessment at UCL or any other institution. This does not include earlier formative drafts of the particular assessment, or instances where the department has explicitly permitted the re-use of formative assessments but does include all other formative work except where permitted.”

This self-plagiarism regulation applies to doctoral candidates in the following way:

  • Re-use of material already used for a previous degree. A research student would be self-plagiarising if they re-used in their final thesis any material (text, data, ideas) that had been previously submitted for assessment or examination for the award of another, previous academic degree (e.g. submitted as part of a Master’s or Undergraduate degree), either in UCL or elsewhere, unless such material is explicitly declared in the thesis as re-used.
  • The upgrade report is not published nor is it used to confer a degree and is therefore excluded from the above definition of “material”. In effect, the upgrade report (and any other progression reviews) is a form of “thesis draft” owned by the student and we encourage the reuse of material in the upgrade report in the final thesis where relevant.

As a result, material written by yourself can be used both in publications and your final thesis, and the self-plagiarism rule does not apply here. However, since your final thesis will be ‘published’ online (see UCL Discovery), there are several rules you must follow.

If you publish first, and submit your thesis for examination after:

  • If you use the results of your own published, accepted or submitted data (text or figures) in your final doctoral thesis, you have to give a clear indication of the previous work, stating the exact source of the previous material, irrespective of whether copyright is owned by you or by a publisher. This indication should take the form of a) an appropriate citation of the original source in the relevant Chapter; and b) completion of the UCL Research Paper Declaration form – this should be embedded after the Acknowledgments page in the thesis.
  • Before using figures, table sheets, or parts of the text, find out from the editor of the journal if you transferred the copyrights when you submitted the paper.
  • When in doubt, when you do not own copyright, get formal approval from copyright owners to re-use the material (this is frequently done for previously published data and figures to be included in a doctoral thesis; please see more information on the UCL Copyright advice website).
  • It ls expected that inclusion of any such material will: ensure the style matches that of the rest of the thesis, both in formatting and content; add additional information/context where beneficial, e.g. additional background/relevant literature, more detailed methods; offer additional data not included in the publication, e.g. preliminary data, null findings, anything included in supplementary materials.
  • If you worked together with co-authors, your (and their) contributions to the publication should be specified in the UCL Research Paper Declaration form.

Examples of including previously published work in your thesis:

  • Acceptable: After gaining approval from the copyright holder, you would be allowed to copy and paste sections from the published paper into your thesis. You might make minor edits to the text to ensure that it fits the overall style of your thesis (e.g. changing “We” to “I”, where appropriate) and that it is written in your voice (see bullet point on ‘Initial drafts of papers’ below). You might also incorporate additional text/figures/Tables that did not appear in the original publication.
  • Unacceptable: You cannot embed the unedited pdf of the published paper into your thesis; or copy and paste the entire paper without making any attempt to match the style to the rest of the thesis.

If you submit your thesis first (and the degree is successfully awarded), and publish after:

  • If your thesis is published first, then this must be declared to a journal publisher so that you can check with the editor about the acceptability of including part of your thesis. You must make sure that you have cited the original source correctly (your thesis for example) and acknowledged yourself as author. Where possible, you could also provide a link. This applies not just to reproducing your own material but also to ideas which you have previously published elsewhere.

Top tips for reusing material in your final thesis

  • Upgrade: We strongly recommend you write your upgrade document (and/or any progression documents) in the same style and format as you would your final thesis. This will help you plan the format of your final thesis early and you can then reuse as much of your upgrade material in your final thesis as makes sense.
  • Initial drafts of papers: We strongly recommend you keep your initial drafts of papers for use in your final thesis; this way it is written in your voice (not that of your supervisors, co-authors, or journal editor) and will be less likely to affect any copyright issues with the publisher. This does not mean you cannot incorporate supervisor corrections; however, all text should be written by you and not subject to vast rewriting/editing by others as is often the case with journal publications. You should still cite your published work where relevant.
  • We encourage you, as students, to plan your thesis structure and project timings carefully from the start. This means considering thesis structure, time of upgrade/progression reviews, and, if appropriate, which chapters might be turned into publications and when. Furthermore, as you approach the final months before your submission deadline (which you should check carefully with your supervisory team and funder as expectations may vary), we strongly encourage you to prioritise the thesis over any other conflicting priorities, e.g. internships, publications, etc…


UCL Research Paper Declaration Form for including published material in your thesis (to be embedded after the Acknowledgements page.


Image at the top: Jack Grahl, Dept of Mathematics, Doctoral School Research Images Competition 2010/11