Posts Tagged ‘PhD’

It is increasingly the case that open access to research outputs includes open access to electronic theses. It can be argued that PhD theses have always been ‘openly accessible’ or ‘published’ in the sense that they are open to the general public for reading. Indeed, this has long been an essential requirement for the work to earn its title. So all that has really changed in the doctoral thesis world is the form of access, i.e. the internet.

This is still a big change, however; and so – quite understandably, I should add – a number of concerns have since arisen. Chief among them is the belief that most publishers and journals consider anything in an e-thesis ‘pre-published’, thereby disqualifying it from consideration for publication.[1] Relatedly, many believe that by depositing their work on an institutional repository, they forfeit intellectual property, again disqualifying consideration.

The fear over intellectual property is, to be sure, a very simple case of misinformation; though it is a serious one at that, as every year it causes unnecessary panic and stress for many students going through the submission process. The intellectual property of an e-thesis, unless expressly stated otherwise, lies with the author/PhD student and a Creative Commons License can be used to that effect.[2] University staff contracts detailing institutional rights over intellectual property apply only to research staff and/or research conducted outside of the PhD.

Regarding the question of ‘pre-publication’, there have been numerous survey-based studies on editorial policy and every single one comes to the same conclusion: publishers and journals, generally speaking, welcome submissions of manuscripts or proposals based on a thesis or a segment of a thesis, on the basis that the published manuscript is likely to be a substantially revised version of the original.[3] The chances of the content of an article or monograph substantially mirroring the PhD from which it is derived, are minimal. Journals and monographs are almost always written in an entirely different style to PhDs. Whereas PhDs are overtly technical, dense and reference/ content-note heavy, journals and monographs are more polemical, concise and accessible. For this reason, most publishers require substantial revision of material derived from a PhD dissertation, regardless of whether an e-thesis is openly accessible or not. As one university press commissioning editor we contacted put it:

We would generally only publish theses that were substantially revised on the basis that a standalone book and a thesis have different jobs to do. On this basis whether or not the original thesis is available on open access is a fairly minor factor in considering a thesis for revision and publication as a book.[4]

Though there are many other factors to consider, this goes some way in explaining why e-theses do not usually preclude publishing opportunities.

In an attempt to provide further and more up-to-date insight into publishing trends and editorial policies regarding the publication of material derived from OAETs, we (Surrey Research Insight) initiated our own survey-based study. We approached hundreds of university and commercial presses (specifically, commissioning editors) focused on monographs, as well as esteemed journals (specifically, journal editors), across all disciplines. Though ongoing, the results gathered thus far vindicate the conclusions of previous studies.

None of this is to say that there can never be a legitimate reason to restrict access to an e-thesis. But it is to say that much of the fear and anxiety over e-theses is ill-founded.

If you have any queries regarding access to or depositing your e-thesis at the University of Surrey please contact: etheses@surrey.ac.uk


[1] See, for instance http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/08/24/the-perils-of-publishing-your-dissertation-online/ [Last accessed 10 February 2016].

[2] See https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ [Last Accessed 10 February 2016].

[3] Seamans, N. H. (2003) ‘Electronic Theses and Dissertations as Prior Publications: What the Editors Say’, Library Hi Tech, vol. 21(1), doi: 10.1108/07378830310467409; Barnes, T. et al (2012) ‘Electronic Doctoral Theses in the UK: A Sector-wide Survey into Policies, Practice and Barriers to Open Access’, UK Council for Graduate Education, pp. 23-4., available online: file://homes.surrey.ac.uk/home/Electronic%20Doctoral%20Theses%20in%20the%20UK.pdf [Last Accessed 10 February 2016]; University of the West of England (2012) ‘Publisher positions on e-theses and prior publication’, available online: file://homes.surrey.ac.uk/home/publisher-pre-pub-guidance.pdf [Last Accessed 10 February 2016]; and Ramirez, M. L., et al. (2013) ‘Do Open Access Electronic Theses and Dissertations Diminish Publishing Opportunities in the Social Sciences and Humanities?: Findings from a 2011 Survey of Academic Publishers’, College & Research Libraries, vol. 74(4), pp. 368-380.

[4] The respondent requested anonymity.


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