Posts Tagged ‘publisher policy’

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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ResearchGate and Copyright

ResearchGate is an online network for academic researchers, particularly focused on the sciences. It allows you to connect with colleagues, share research interests, ask questions and provide answers to research problems. The platform also offers the opportunity to upload copies of your papers. Rogers (2015) estimates that by February 2015 around 80% of ResearchGate users had uploaded at least one full text to the site. Whilst this is an excellent way to gain visibility and promote your research, it may lead to problems with the copyright policies of publishers.

If you use ResearchGate, you must take care to check which version of your work you are permitted to upload, and whether it can be uploaded at the time of publication or if an embargo must be applied. It is vital to consult your publishing agreement prior to uploading a text on ResearchGate, as different publishers allow different versions of academic papers to be uploaded to repositories and author websites: the author’s pre-print, the author’s accepted version, or the published version.

If publishers become aware that an incorrect version is being shared or an embargo is not applied then they are likely to issue take down notices or even sue authors for breach of copyright.

To get the most out of ResearchGate without risking a breach of copyright, please read the Copyright Transfer Agreement or licence that you signed to see how you are allowed to share your paper.  You can also check open access policies on the journal’s website, or by using Sherpa Romeo, a site that allows you to search for policies by journal title or ISSN. However, it is important to remember that these are only a guide: your own copyright agreement is the definitive source of information.

Getting help on copyright

The SRI team can give you further advice on copyright. Please note that we do not perform copyright checks on papers that are uploaded in ResearchGate. It is your responsibility to make sure that you are in line with your journal’s policy.

We do, however, monitor the content of the SRI Open Access repository, and offer detailed advice on what can be posted there. Please also note that SRI Open Access supports compliance with the next REF: ResearchGate does not. HEFCE does not consider that you are complying with their Open Access policy if you deposit your papers in websites like ReseachGate or Academia.edu.

Useful links

Surrey Research Insight: The University of Surrey’s Open Access Repository

SRI Open Access: Information about Open Access provided by the University of Surrey’s Open Access Team

Sherpa Romeo: This allows you to easily search for journals to consult their open access posting policies.


Rogers (2015) How do scientists share on academic social networks like ResearchGate? http://blog.sciencebite.com/how-do-scientists-share-on-academic-social-networks-like-researchgate/ [accessed 19/06/2015]

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