What Academic Copy Distribution Concerns Should You Have (and Not Have)?
In the academic world, originality is key. You need to ensure that what you are writing, presenting and distributing is indeed your own work and has not been plagiarized from other sources. When you submit your thesis, a comparison to a worldwide database should show that your text has not been published before. These comparisons often cross-reference academic journals, websites, prior student assignments and books. If it turns out that parts of your material have already been presented by other people or featured on websites, you may be accused of plagiarism. Although most of the guidelines regarding “originality” checks are pretty straightforward, there are also some grey areas you might want to consider before distributing your any of your content online (during any part of your writing process).
Areas that require careful consideration
Many students now use a blog to communicate about different aspects of their lives, including their academic work. It can be tempting to put dissertation material onto your blog to share your findings with others and potentially get feedback. However, this should be done with caution. Blogging about your thesis makes your material lose some of its freshness. Also, if something is online and openly available, its originality can be questioned. Therefore, it might be more difficult to publish it later. Some journals could consider self-publication as just another form of publication, making your potential future article non-original.
Another concern with self-publication is that other people can take ideas from the blog or website and publish the material elsewhere before you submit your final thesis. Intellectual property can be a contentious area in itself, however, the issue here is also that if somebody else writes about your findings, your thesis might not pass digital plagiarism checkers.
Therefore, you need to carefully check your university’s policies and regulations. Also, publishers have different rules about how submitted (and published) articles can be distributed. Some do allow posting on open websites operated by the author or author’s university for scholarly purposes; Elsevier is such example (see author and user rights). However, there needs to be an “appropriate bibliographic citation and a link to the article once published”.
Areas which are usually not problematic
Parts of your thesis can be published as independent articles in peer-reviewed journals prior to defending your thesis. This signals that your material is of high enough standard to be considered by a wider scientific community. It is a sign of success, not scientific misconduct. Also, articles you publish will unlikely be a verbatim version of the thesis as journals usually have different requirements regarding the content and layout. Besides, after the reviewers are done with your submission, it is probably going to be significantly different than the original version. However, it can be appropriate to add a note and/or acknowledge that some portions of the article were taken from your thesis.
Furthermore, in order to fulfill the criteria of your degree, many universities require their candidates to have made some scientific publications. The dissertation can be compiled of multiple articles, as is the case with the three article dissertation or TAD. Publishing your articles before defending is therefore not considered plagiarism.
All in all, although it can be exciting to share your findings and work online early, make sure you don’t undermine your interests by openly distributing your material prematurely without fully understanding the risks.