PhD theses: what should doctoral candidates take into account when publishing their thesis?
Online publication of theses and mandatory publication requirements
Doctoral candidates in Germany are obliged to publish their thesis. In 1997, the German Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education (Kultusministerkonferenz) passed a resolution that introduced the option to meet this obligation by publishing the thesis online. The extent to which this is possible at individual universities and faculties depends on the PhD regulations in each case. Electronic publishing of a thesis is generally carried out by the university library, which typically runs its own publication server and stipulates required formats etc. Online publication of a thesis through a university library generally implies open access publishing. Publication of the thesis is based on a publication agreement.
Monograph thesis vs. thesis by publication
A monograph thesis is a scholarly work on a single topic. The specific requirements are governed by the doctoral regulations of the respective university.
A thesis by publication – also known as a thesis as a series of papers or, in Germany, as a “kumulative Dissertation” – is a collection of related research papers that have already been published in scholarly journals or that have already completed the respective journal’s peer-review process and been accepted for publication. Again, all the conditions that apply to a thesis by publication are governed by the respective institution’s doctoral regulations, including the number of articles required and any additional options that may be available.
Information on theses by publication
Unless the original articles were published as open access under an open content license that grants free use of the published material, it is normally necessary to obtain the original publisher’s consent to incorporate the articles in the thesis. In most cases, the rights will either already have been granted as part of the publication agreement or will fall under a general right granted by the publisher to reuse previously published or accepted articles in the context of a thesis. In the latter case, this should appear on the website of the respective journal in the section entitled “Information for authors”. Should neither of these situations apply, written permission can be sought from the publisher, either by sending them an email or by filling out a form on the journal’s website. In our experience, obtaining consent to republish an article as part of a thesis is normally a fairly quick process, as long as the paper is available in print format or, in the case of electronic publications, on non-commercial publication servers such as those run by institutional repositories. Consent is often granted on two conditions: first, that the final version of the manuscript is used (i.e. not the publisher’s layout of the version of record) and, second, that clear reference is made to the original article by citing the full bibliographic information, including the DOI link. Other conditions may also apply. To find out more, we recommend contacting the university library departments responsible for publishing theses.
Incorporation of previously published tables, figures, and similar items in a thesis
We also recommend obtaining permission from the journal or publisher to incorporate tables, figures and similar items in the thesis from your own previously published works. However, this step is not necessary if the items you wish to incorporate in your thesis are covered by copyright rules on referencing other works, or if the original publication was published as open access with the Creative Commons licence that grants free use of the published material. In accordance with the principles of good research practice, it is always necessary to reference the original publication. This obviously also applies when incorporating material from other works.
Subsequent publication of findings from a thesis in a journal or in book form through a publisher
Since university libraries generally only permit a non-exclusive right of use to be granted for the publication, there will generally be no problem in subsequently publishing findings from your own thesis, either in a journal or in book form through a publisher. In accordance with the principles of good research practice, the original thesis publication should always be cited.
Note, however, that many journals and publishers are primarily interested in publishing new research and will therefore reject findings that have already been published. You should take this into account when developing your individual publishing strategy and, where appropriate, make enquiries in advance to establish whether your desired journal or publisher will be willing to publish the work.
Subsequent electronic publication of printed theses in the Repository for Life Sciences run by ZB MED
If you have already published your doctoral or post-doctoral thesis in print format, you can still choose to publish it electronically in the ZB MED Repository for Life Sciences. If the work was published by a publisher, you will generally have to obtain their permission first. Publication in the Repository for Life Sciences ensures the digital preservation of your document and the assignment of what is known in academic circles as a persistent digital object identifier (DOI). Further information
Important note: The information and links provided here do not represent any form of binding legal advice. They are solely intended to provide an initial basis to help get you on the right track. ZB MED – Information Centre for Life Sciences has carefully checked the information included in the list of FAQs. However, we are unable to accept any liability whatsoever for any errors it may contain. Unless indicated otherwise, any statements concerning individual statutory norms or regulations refer to German law (FAQ updated 04/2023).