Question
Asked 21st Sep, 2013

Would you discourage to cite PhD theses?

Quite often I see warnings not to cite PhD theses. Since the doctorates usually spend a considerable effort in finishing their study, it does not seem fair to prohibit citation. After all, PhD thesis is thoroughly reviewed by the advisor.

Most recent answer

29th Nov, 2020
Gonfa Kewessa
Ambo University
I think no problem to cite a Ph.D. thesis as long as they pass-through critical review by supervisors and examiners.
Moreover, in the absence of the article in the field of interest, it is a fair solution to refer/cite a Ph.D. thesis.

All Answers (59)

21st Sep, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
Michael - good question - but you would have to quantify what you meant by citing a doctoral thesis and where? In most cases, I would argue, it's fine to cite it. You are at liberty to cite an unpublished PhD thesis in journal/public articles - hence why most citation conventions I.e APA identify how to do so. It's obviously more than fine to include it on your CV as well. Even on ResearchGate, I have noted that some include their Masters and PhD theses as publications. I don't have a problem with that - but I have not felt the need to include mine - as I see them, less as publications, and more as qualifications
4 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Theodora Issa
Curtin University
Hello all,
Well, now with the requirement to have your PhD thesis provided to your university in a soft copy to be available on the university's library website... I believe it is ok!
You might excuse me, I have only finished my PhD in 2009/2010!
1 Recommendation
21st Sep, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
@Dean, yes, I've heard that qualification argument. My view on this is slightly different in that I think all our publications are part of our qualification as scientists (not formal ones, of course), so why not share the one that might well present the first step on the way to a recognised scientist. In most cases theses are written with far more background information than following paper(s) based on it. This may well lead to further ideas by readers.
2 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Matt Holland
National Health Service
Hi Michael, I am surprised that you have seen instructions not to cite PhD. thesis. Might be worth mentioning that not all theses are the same, depending on the academic tradition they come from. In the USA and other countries Doctorates are taught, with a different emphasis than say the UK where doctorates are purely by research without a taught element, except perhaps an M Res to get started. To complete a thesis in the UK, the work has to make an original contribution to the topic and so will be in some way unique. In other words it may be the only source for some aspect of the topic, if the thesis is very new or the candidate moves on to other topics or a non academic career and doesn't take the usual route to publication as an academic. So a reason to cite might be the unique subject of the thesis.
It might be worth mentioning as well that the PhD. thesis as an artefact is a massive investment of time and money by the student and the University. The return on investment is not only the newly qualified and skilled researcher but also the thesis itself. This is possibly why the British Library puts so much effort into making theses available to the research community, through the compulsory deposit scheme and EthOS, the electronic theses service. The aim to share original research as fast and as far as possible. If used properly it is inevitable and right to cite.
Finally, for some topics the theses will be the origin of an idea or area of research, where the antecedents of an idea is important to provide correct context, say in an extensive literature review then it is appropriate. This would be true of the humanities and perhaps very fast moving areas of science and medicine. BW Matt
5 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
Your views are very much appreciated, Matt. It may be a question, though, on which area of research we are looking at, when authors are encouraged or not to cite.
It might also be interesting to find out, in which areas theses are cited the most (or more often).
1 Recommendation
21st Sep, 2013
Issam Sinjab
Alumni University of Leicester & University of Sussex
A PhD thesis is an original piece of research so in this respect it should and I would definitely cite it.
2 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Jaya Vikas Kurhekar
Dr. Patangrao Kadam Mahavidyalaya, Sangli
Why should we discourage the citing of a PhD thesis , when it goes through rigorous scrutiny ? It doesn't seem fair !
2 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Abdulvahed Khaledi Darvishan
Tarbiat Modares University
A PhD thesis, specially in high quality universities, is a peer reviewed documented research with the best literature review and detailed methodology.
So, I do agree with Ahed that "this great effort deserves to be cited".
5 Recommendations
21st Sep, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
All good answers here everyone. Matt - yes there are many different forms of theses/dissertations. A common PhD format in some Scandanavian countries, for instance, is that its 'core content' comprises a series of published articles - and, similarly, there are 'PhDs by publication' that include an even broader range of published literature. obviously, those ones answer your original question Michael in a far more straight-forward manner. I know that some have argued that access to a full thesis offers more 'background' detail but, for me, I would prefer the summarised versions - which would then equate probably to article publications. When I am marking theses, I often think "that the author is 'drawing out' this section just to fulfill the recommended word count"Just to add to the mix on this one. Just one more thing to add to the mix here - 'what about citing Masters dissertations/reports etc - then?'
3 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
Jose ISAIAS Lobo Fontalvo
Universidad del Atlántico
Now that you all are talking about this topic, there is a prominent PhD candidate in the United States whose dissertation was turned down for one reason, i.e., nobody had done research on what she wanted to do research on. They did not even listened to her. I ask for the forginess of the so called "experts," but a museum in the American south has asked the PhD candidate to create for them an exhibit with her discovery. I believe that professors are just human beings who sometimes believe they are gods. Humility, humbleness, and vision are missing in some of us who are doctors.
22nd Sep, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
Jose - an interesting viewpoint here - but a few issues with it. One - PhD candidates are not usually 'prominent' - unless they are doing a doctoral study later in their research career. Two - very rarely, while it is suppose to be original, does a doctoral study investigate something that has never been investigated, in some form or capacity, before. If this were the case, the literature review and discussion chapters must have been very 'light'. Three - any PhD thesis that I have been involved with that was 'turned down' or failed - has deservedly failed - even if original. In that case I, personally, blame the supervisors - not the examiners
2 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
Jose ISAIAS Lobo Fontalvo
Universidad del Atlántico
Her thesis had to do with race in the United States in terms of the encounter of a German community with an African American community. She grew up in German community and discovered several interesting things. I gues that professors somehow are myopic A good professor should have guided this student. By the way let me remind you that several entrepreneurs in the world have no PhDs and they are prominent. And also there are various Doctors like me who have PhDs and we are not prominent.
1 Recommendation
22nd Sep, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
Jose - we are perhaps getting a little off track here but, I agree, she would have been better off with better supervisors. I also agree with you that many entrepreneurs have no PhD - especially in the business community. Off the top of my head, and I might be wrong, let's take Bill Gates, Stephen Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson etc - but these people are/were probably far to busy to undertake one. However, you refer to a 'prominent' PhD candidate; someone who is actually enrolled in a PhD programme. Even if you apply your observation to academia, there are very few prominent professors who do not posses a PhD . On your last point, there are very many people who possess a PhD and are not prominent - please add me to your list. But there again, whoever said that a PhD was a measure of prominence. They are 'nice to have' - but that's about it really!!
22nd Sep, 2013
Rakesh Yashroy
Home
Any important information which strengthens the publication is worth citing - including theses and personal communication, unless a particular publisher restricts them for commercial reasons.
4 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
@Rakesh, interesting point - including personal communication in the references. I'm in computer science, and I haven't seen this kind of citation for ages. Is it really acceptable to cite something unpublished?
1 Recommendation
22nd Sep, 2013
Arturo Geigel
Independent Researcher Puerto Rico
Michael,
You bring a very interesting point besides PhD theses which is unpublished work. While I think that citing every piece of information is important as Rakesh mentions I do get the impression that in CS it has often been discouraged to cite unpublished work. My take would be, if it is important and it is not being cited then it might fall under plagiarism.
2 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
I appreciate your view, Arturo, which extends the point I wanted to make. As far as I know, there are two main strands on this: (Wikipedia:) Plagiarism is the "wrongful appropriation" and "purloining and publication" of another author's "language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions,", and (kidshealth.org:) 'Plagiarism is a form of cheating because it's stealing another person's ideas'.
So, one strand is based on publications (author) and another is on personal and public communication (person's ideas). Your 'take' would follow the second strand, I suppose.
A more practical question related to this view is how to cite personal communication, especially if it is intended to justify arguments in a paper.
1 Recommendation
22nd Sep, 2013
Matt Holland
National Health Service
Hi all, it is possible to cite both unpublished work and Personal Communications aka Pers Com, There are citation formats in APA for this and for any number of web formats where this might occur such as e-mail. There are a number of issues here. First is the reader, can they see the e-mail or read the unpublished conference paper or whatever. My view would be if there are compelling reasons to cite Pers Com unpublished work, they must be available to your reader as well, if possible.
As an inoculation against plagiarism these forms of citation to me are weak. The accusation you are trying to avoid is passing off someone else's ideas as your own - as opposed to just copying and pasting text and saying you wrote this. I think that the way to avoid this it is include the attribution in the flow of the text and correct citation of published work. This is a more elegant solution. Cite unpublished work or Pers Com only if it is unavoidable. BW Matt
3 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
David Charles Wright-Carr
Universidad de Guanajuato
Hello again, Michael! PhD theses are often excellent sources of information, more complete and with better documentation than journal articles. Sometimes editors ask authors to simplify their theses for publication, for reasons more commercial than scientific. In other cases a thesis is never published due to a limited market for the book. It used to be hard to get our hands on theses, making it difficult for readers to follow up on citations of them, but with web access this problem is fading fast. A thesis is a publication, in the sense that it is available to the public for consultation. Eliminating this academic genre by inventing an abritrary rule runs counter to the principle of comprehensiveness.
4 Recommendations
22nd Sep, 2013
Arturo Geigel
Independent Researcher Puerto Rico
Michael ,
The problem today is that unless you are well known today the use of personal communications is treated as dubious at best(at least in CS, but this varies with the field). APA guidelines(I have the 5th ed so this may have changed) states that personal communications should be cited only in the text only. But this is only the mechanics of the APA. What I've had to do is to look for supporting evidence as citations to back every single point made in it, just to pass it through as a source. Nonetheless, I have included it as reference in my work.
2 Recommendations
23rd Sep, 2013
Cristian Köpfli
University of Notre Dame
Hi Michael,
from the viewpoint of natural sciences, I can add two more points to this discussion:
1) the number someone's work has been cited has become an important measure of the importance of the researcher (e.g. h-factor). As far as I know, citations of thesis are not counted there. Thus, if the thesis is published in one or several papers, you make the author a favour by citing the papers, not the thesis.
2) If you cite a thesis, you might need to add details on where in the thesis the information can be found (e.g. chapter or page number). It is bad scientific style to cite a very large document, e.g. a 200-page thesis, unless you really want to cite the whole content. While papers usually follow a '1 idea/finding per paper' structure, a thesis might contain different loosely related findings. Thus you need to make clear to what part you are referring.
I don't think one should cite solely the introduction (literature review) of a thesis. Cite in addition the original literature. But of course still mention if someone else has done a thesis on a similar topic and this introduction helped you.
3 Recommendations
23rd Sep, 2013
Alok Nahata
Dr. Harisingh Gour University
I have seen many journals which have an option of publishing such work as 'unpublished data' and they give a proper clause regarding this in the author instructions also. You can cite such theses in references mentioning it as unpublished data, just need to give a proper reference of the place and time where the study was undertaken and to cite the completion date would be nice.
2 Recommendations
23rd Sep, 2013
Colin SCHMIDT
Ecole Nationale Supérieure d'Arts et Métiers
Absolutely not!
1 Recommendation
24th Sep, 2013
Mudasir Kirmani
Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology of Kashmir
It is good to cite the PhD thesis work.
It gives you a platform to share your finding with the whole community of researchers and at the same time you have an opportunity to know different perspectives from the researches all across the globe in relation to your research work.
3 Recommendations
1st Oct, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
To sum up your main ideas, for which I am very grateful:
You would not discourage citing PhD theses; on the contrary, most of you recommend to cite them but in careful way. It is necessary to guide readers by giving details of the source, e.g. by page or chapter numbers.
Thank you all for the input.
12 Recommendations
1st Oct, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
Always good to sum up a thread Michael - and well summarised here!!
1 Recommendation
6th Oct, 2013
Alex Smithson
La Fundacio Hospital de l' Esperit Sant
In Spain, at least in Medicine, there is a tendency to do the thesis based on recent published papers on a related topic. Therefore published papers and the doctoral thesis itself are pretty much the same thing.
3 Recommendations
8th Oct, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
@Alejandro, in this case, which would you cite more: the thesis with its extended but complete information, or the series of single papers, where readers have to put together the pieces of the whole picture by themselves?
3 Recommendations
8th Oct, 2013
Ian Kennedy
University of the Witwatersrand
@Michael: The thesis is the cleaned-up and more authoritative work. So cite it. Remembering to be user-friendly, give the page numbers.
4 Recommendations
8th Oct, 2013
Dean Whitehead
Federation University Australia
As in Spain - it's a common format in several Scandanavian countries as well. Correct - the thesis is the 'over-arching' body of work that joins up the related published studies into a 'cohesive whole' - with overall impact and findings reported. I would cite both. The thesis for the 'overall'; the single studies for more specific findings related to parts of the overall.
3 Recommendations
9th Oct, 2013
Ian Kennedy
University of the Witwatersrand
Which document you cite really depends on whether the text you are quoting or paraphrasing comes from the thesis or from the paper.
1 Recommendation
9th Oct, 2013
Saad Khorfan
Al-Baath University
PhD. thesis is the result of 3 - 4 years of work . It contains more details on experimental methods and refer to more references than a paper . I personally benefited from PhD. thesis in my literature survey and I think if they are useful they should be cited .
5 Recommendations
24th Nov, 2013
Tolga Soyata
George Mason University
A Ph.D. Thesis should be a good summary of one's solution to a research problem. So, generally, a Ph.D. Thesis includes many publications that the Ph.D. candidate has published during his/her Ph.D. studies. In that regard, citing a Ph.D. Thesis is very similar to citing a book. Since you know that your claim is answered in that Ph.D. Thesis, there is no technical problem with citing a Ph.D. Thesis.
However, the problem is GENERALITY vs. SPECIFICITY. Assume that, a Ph.D. Thesis has 10 publications associated with it. Clearly, in all of those 10 publications, the Ph.D. candidate answered a much more specific question. Combined, those 10 publications addressed the solution of the overall BIGGER problem. Let's say: The Ph.D. Thesis is the BIG PICTURE answer, and each publication is the SMALLER picture answer ...
That being the case, it is always a better style to cite AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE. You are doing the reader a favor by "filtering" the publications that are more relevant. My opinion is that, it is better to cite 2 of the publications of the author, rather than the entire Ph.D. thesis ... UNLESS, what you are describing itself is referring to the big picture to begin with ... I have rarely had to resort to citing a Ph.D. Thesis, since I was always able to find a more specific publication that proved my point better ... However, Ph.D. Theses are perfect for using in the introduction sections, where you are already talking about the big picture anyway ...
4 Recommendations
24th Nov, 2013
Theodora Issa
Curtin University
Well, usually, the PhD is the outcome of a very serious research... thus, I would not discourage people to reference PhD theses... I am not going to go through the discussion if this thesis is a result of a combination of articles or a thesis that is written following the collection and analysis of data.
3 Recommendations
24th Nov, 2013
Jaya Vikas Kurhekar
Dr. Patangrao Kadam Mahavidyalaya, Sangli
I agree with Theodora , such a serious piece of work deserves to be cited and moreover, it is endorsed by authorities and has passed through expert scrutiny !!!
3 Recommendations
30th Nov, 2013
Sylvia Encheva
Høgskulen på Vestlandet
There is nothing wrong with citing a PhD thesis. Sometimes researches present interesting ideas that are outside main stream beliefs but novel. Well established journals do not take risks in publishing such works and authors can express their opinions only their thesis.
5 Recommendations
30th Nov, 2013
Subramanyan Namboodiri Varanakkottu
National Institute of Technology Calicut
It is perfectly fine to cite PhD thesis. At least two or three experts (usually more than three) review the thesis before publishing it. Thesis give more details than a journal article. Sometimes it helps a lot, especially the experimental details. It will be nice to specify the page number / chapter number while citing a thesis.
3 Recommendations
30th Nov, 2013
David Canino
None
I finished my PhD Thesis on 2012 in Computer Science, so I am very happy whether someone read and cite my thesis. I don't see any problem.
As Tolga Soyata says, a thesis may be a rich source of information. In particular, any thesis is usually 100-300 pages long, and contains much more material than a classical paper (10/12 pages).
Other comments are very good. In particular, Yes, Sylvia Encheva makes a good comment. A thesis may contain parts and idea which are not published yet, or journals reject them due to their novelty and outside main road of research.
For instance, I created a framework for the fast prototyping of topological data structures (mangrovetds.sourceforge.net), which has been rejected twice by journals, since it sounds "strange at first sight. It is described completely only in my thesis.
5 Recommendations
2nd Dec, 2013
Theodora Issa
Curtin University
David,
Well, did you think of taking this framework or prototype a step further (applying it) if that is possible - as a case study - and publish that one! it might be found to be practical and will be published - I am sure of that ...
Looking forward to reading it!
Regards
6 Recommendations
3rd Dec, 2013
Michael Brückner
Naresuan University
@Theodora, very good advice.
1 Recommendation
3rd Dec, 2013
Kevin Stoda
Kansas City Public Schools
A number of friends of mine rewrote their theses at both the MA and PhD levels and got them published elsewhere. Others have broken up the thesis of theirs into articles. So, it should go without saying, be sure to always consider whether the same cited material from a thesis might not be more accessible to others in either book or article form.
--my two cents
8 Recommendations
3rd Dec, 2013
David Canino
None
@Theodora Issa, thanks. Yes, I did it, finally.
In fact, an article, entitled "Representing Simplicial Complexes with Mangroves", has been accepted just two months ago (October, 2013). If you are interested, you can find this article in my RG homepage.
In any case, the original framework was born in 2010/2011, so I have spent almost two years and three different submissions (failed). In the mean time, only my PhD Thesis provides a description of this framework. Thus, citing this document is mandatory for me, especially if you can publish something which is based on this unpublished contribution, like in my case.
@Kevin Stoda: yes, you can extract articles from any PhD thesis, like my article. But the problem regards the number of details. A conference paper may be 10 pages long (two column) or 20 pages (single column, like the above article). A PhD thesis may be 300 pages or more. A particular type of contribution may introduce many details and improvements, thus 10 pages are not sufficient, in general. In this case, you should give an overview in the short article, and cite the related PhD thesis for more details.
4 Recommendations
4th Dec, 2013
Theodora Issa
Curtin University
David,
Congratulations - indeed, will take a look - well done...
Yes, it is a must to refer to the PhD when you publish the results of your research.
Actually, previously, and prior to the online publications of PhD theses by the universities libraries, I believe the only people who might have read the document would have been the author, the supervisor(s), the editor (if applicable), and the examiners... then it would have collected dust at the library.
However, now with the availability of theses online - I believe it is easier to have access to it... mine actually was among the first on the university list for a while! which is encouraging and it means that other than me and my supervisors/examiners have even looked at it!
Regards
5 Recommendations
In a lot of my works I've to cite the van der Waal's PhD thesis.
I think that this is an example of the importance of the work of PhD students.
Regards,
mariano
4 Recommendations
3rd May, 2015
Ian Kennedy
University of the Witwatersrand
I would have loved to have touched his yellowed thesis instead of just getting the students' ultra-condensed version in the Physics textbook.
3 Recommendations
11th Aug, 2015
Mahamad Nabab Alam
National Institute of Technology, Warangal
I like it.
29th Feb, 2016
Suriyanarayanan Sarvajayakesavalu
Vinayaka Mission's Research Foundation
Nothing wrong if the thesis is published
20th Nov, 2016
Kevin Stoda
Kansas City Public Schools
I have recalled another reason to cite a thesis--esp. if no article nor any book has come from the thesis to date.  The realms where the thesis eventually could be quite useful for researchers are in the footnotes, cited sources, and in the data sets created for the thesis.  
In 2000-2002, I worked on  research related to a hypothesis that a federal-state theory on peace and war would be every bit as robust as the ongoing popular theories about Democracy and Peace Theory.  I created a unique data set on federal states to be used in conjunction with Democracy and nation data which were popularly used in the literature.
Had I published the thesis as a dissertation, I would have provided the completely new reworked data set for other scholars to use in the appendix of the work.  In short, there may be gems to be gleaned from theses and disertations.  One never knows till one looks at the thesis themselves.
2 Recommendations
19th Nov, 2017
Waleed Khan
University of Nottingham
It is completely reasonable and make sense to cite PhD thesis, as it is reviewed by supervisors and the external examiner after all. However, I would cite only published thesis.
14th Jan, 2018
Haitham Hmoud Alshibly
Al-Balqa' Applied University
Agreed with previous scholars' comments.
1 Recommendation
10th Jul, 2020
Deepak Kumar Behera
KISS
I strongly feel that Ph.D theses should be cited frequently as those are systematic and scientific research over a long period of time.
16th Jul, 2020
Robert A. Williams
University of Akron
Not only is a doctoral thesis reviewed by a team of advisors (lead, immediate, and others), but it must be approved by an internal examiner and an external examiner after the thesis is successfully defended by the doctoral student. So, yes, Professor Deepak is correct in thinking theses should be cited frequently. That said, many doctoral theses do eventually become published books.
2 Recommendations
26th Aug, 2020
Ashif Sajjad
University of Balochistan
no problem one can cite hi/her thesis in an article. there are many journals allow to cite.
29th Nov, 2020
Gonfa Kewessa
Ambo University
I think no problem to cite a Ph.D. thesis as long as they pass-through critical review by supervisors and examiners.
Moreover, in the absence of the article in the field of interest, it is a fair solution to refer/cite a Ph.D. thesis.

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