Preparing Your Thesis For Open Access Publication

Universities generally encourage students to enable open access to the full text of their theses, wherever possible. Open access means able to be freely accessed, viewed and re-used by anyone in the world via the internet.

What are the benefits of open access?

Providing open access to your work has many benefits. You can:

  • Share your work with a global audience, including researchers, higher degree by research students, industry practitioners and the public.
  • Have your work indexed by Google Scholar
  • Make it easy for other researchers to cite your thesis.
  • Ensure the ongoing preservation of a digital copy of your thesis.
  • Receive a permanent and citable web link to your thesis.

What are the impediments to making my thesis available on open access in an institutional repository?

There are a number of reasons why you may not be able to provide the full text of your thesis available on open access. These include:

  • Copyright permission – if your thesis contains copyright material and the copyright holder will not allow you to make that material openly accessible.
  • Intellectual property– if any of the material in your thesis is subject to Intellectual Property obligations, claims or restrictions imposed by external organisations that supported your research (e.g. constraints on publishing, confidentiality agreements, pending patents).

In either case you may need to request that certain parts of your thesis are omitted from the digital version, you can impose a time embargo on the publication of the full thesis, or apply a permanent exemption to your thesis being published online. However, even with these restrictions, you can decide to make available the citation and metadata of your thesis. Metadata or bibliographic information includes the author, title, short abstract, degree, school and date of submission and will allow search engines to locate information about your thesis.

What copyright issues do I need to check before publishing my thesis?

Copyright issues arise when you submit the final version of your thesis for inclusion in an institutional repository as copyright items in your thesis are now being used for the purpose of publication rather than research and study.

The following considerations apply to different types of copyright material you may wish to include in your thesis:

  • Brief Quotations – you can include brief quotations taken from another publication as long as the source is properly acknowledged and referenced.
  • Short extracts required for criticism or review – you can reproduce short extracts of text or images from other works where these are the subject of critical commentary or analysis in your thesis.
  • Material which is out of copyright – copyright protection does not last forever, so you can normally include relatively old material (older than 70 years). Make sure you check how long copyright lasts as this varies depending on the type of material and the date of creation.
  • Letters and other material not made available to the public – you do not have the right to reproduce or communicate unpublished material or material that has not been made available to the public.  This may include private letters, manuscripts, company reports and documents, and questionnaires. If you want to include such material in your thesis, you’ll need to get written permission from the owner.
  • Electronic products and resources – if you want to include material obtained from an electronic resource or database (e.g. CD-ROM, DVD, e-journal, e-book) check the terms and conditions of the contract or licence agreement under which the item was obtained. Sometimes these conditions are displayed on the product itself. Make sure you abide by any conditions imposed. It is unlikely in the case of commercial products that you will be permitted to copy the material and communicate it online via an institutional repository. Usually you will need to obtain written permission from the publisher or distributor. Sometimes these organisations may impose a charge for use of the material.
  • Material from internet sites – if you want to include material obtained from an Internet site, check the Conditions of Use or any licence agreement posted on the site to make sure you are allowed to copy the material and communicate it online to a worldwide audience. Many Internet sites will allow users to copy limited amounts of material for non-commercial, educational purposes if the source is duly acknowledged.  However, sites do not necessarily permit material to be reproduced in an online thesis, public website or commercial publication. Where no explicit or implied permission is granted in the Conditions of Use, you will need to obtain written permission from the organisation controlling the website.
  • Open Access Resources – in the case of material made available on an “Open Access” site (e.g. under a “Creative Commons” licence) make sure you comply with any conditions attached to the licence: such as a requirement to fully acknowledge the source, or not to make derivative works.
  • Material copied with permission – you can include any material in your thesis if you have obtained permission from the copyright owner to do so. Seeking permission is essential in the circumstances described above: for example, if you are not sure if you are allowed to copy and communicate specific material or if the stated conditions (on a website, for instance) are too restrictive.

Make sure you get permission in writing (an email is usually acceptable), and keep a copy of the correspondence received in case any questions are raised later. Be sure to comply with any conditions imposed, and acknowledge the source from which the material was obtained. In your thesis refer to the fact that permission has been granted to use the material.

When you approach a copyright owner to seek permission to use copyright material, specify what material you want to use, where it is located, and what purpose you want to use it for. Stress that it is for non-commercial purposes only, and state that it will be included online in the an online repository.

  • Re-use of text from your published work – if your thesis is going to include a significant block of text copied verbatim from a journal article, conference paper or book chapter you have written in the course of your research, you’ll need to make sure you’re entitled to re-use this material and communicate it online. Read the terms and conditions of the contract or publishing agreement you sign with the journal publisher / conference organiser to check what, if any, rights you assigned to the publisher and what, if any, you retained. Often, for example, it’s a requirement you assign (i.e. transfer) your copyright as a condition of acceptance of your article. If this is the case then you’ll need to get permission from the publisher / conference organiser to re-use your own material.

A useful guide to the default policies of publishers regarding copyright, use of pre- and post-prints etc. is available at SHERPA ROMEO. Sometimes the publishing agreement will still allow you to re-use your article for non-commercial purposes (e.g., by posting it to an institutional repository), even though the publisher may retain the copyright. It would be worth seeking to negotiate this permission at the outset when you are asked to sign the publishing agreement.

If you have written a journal article or research paper jointly with someone else (such as your supervisor), you may need to get their approval also to reproduce all or part of the text in your thesis. This would be the case if your fellow author is a joint holder of the copyright.

Will I be able to publish journal articles or monographs from my thesis if I choose open access?

Many research students want to publish from their thesis after the thesis has been accepted, but are concerned that making their thesis available on the internet may then make it ineligible for later publication. Many of the major journal publishers (e.g. Elsevier) accept electronic access to theses and will publish articles based on electronic theses. However, some publishers will still insist on first publication.

The text from a thesis chapter is rarely the same as the subsequent journal article or published monograph, even in draft form. Journal articles are usually based on a chapter or sub-section of a thesis, but are first edited to suit the audience of the intended journal, and then are edited a second time through the peer review process. Monographs are often based on a thesis but are usually re-written to include new information such as comments from examiners and reviewers and to incorporate new information.

It is recommended that you check the policy of your intended journal publishers, and discuss your publication options with your research supervisor.

Please note: you may have the option to restrict access to your thesis (embargo) if you find your publisher insists on exclusive publication.

Content from:

Curtin University –

University of Sydney (reproduced with permission) –

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