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Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Submission and Style Guide 2011 edition, Rev. 2013


Graduate students, in undertaking their theses and dissertations, embark upon the culminating research experience of their degree programs. The written thesis or dissertation reflects their commitment to scholarship and creative endeavor. After publication, the thesis or dissertation reflects the quality of research contributions made by American University. As such, American University maintains specific guidelines regarding the format and appearance of these documents. As a condition of graduation, each student's thesis or dissertation must be electronically submitted for inclusion in the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT) database, as well as American University's Digital Research Archive (AUDRA).

Responsibilities, requirements, and procedures for the preparation, formatting, and submission of theses and dissertations are described in this guide, which complements the assistance given to students by their advisory committees and their schools or colleges. It is intended to be used in conjunction with the publishing guides issued by University Microfilms, Inc. (UMI) which publishes in microformat and online all theses and dissertations approved by American University. This guidebook is not intended to provide all details on writing and submitting a thesis or dissertation and is not to be used in place of a style guide--APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. For additional information, student writers of theses and dissertations should consult the designated advisors in their schools and colleges.

These guidelines have been adapted from the 1995 American University Guide to the Preparation of Dissertations and Theses, as well as ETD Style Guides issued by the graduate schools at the University of Maryland and Stony Brook University.

There are several items students are responsible for addressing as part of the thesis or dissertation submission process. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with these requirements during the proposal process.

The student adheres to the University requirements for the preparation of theses and dissertations as described in this guide and prepares a thesis/dissertation acceptable to University Microfilms Incorporated (UMI), which is the publisher of American University theses and dissertations.

This Guide outlines the University's formatting requirements for the dissertation or thesis, to be used in conjunction with the style guide appropriate to the student's discipline (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc. or the Turabian* manual, which is the default style guide for the University ) and UMI's "Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission," available on the UMI submission site at

The student should not use a previously published American University dissertation or thesis as a model. Format requirements may have changed, and the model may not be appropriate for the student's discipline or needs. Please note that the formatting requirements in this guide supersede guidelines in any other style manual. Students may wish to use the MS Word or LaTeX ETD templates that the University has provided.

*Turabian, Kate L. A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. (Available in the American University Library reference collection, call no. LB2369 .T8 2007.)
The student complies with U.S. copyright law with respect to using previously published material in the thesis/dissertation and documents permission from copyright owners when needed.

The fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law provides for some exceptions to the exclusive rights of a copyright holder, but does not provide absolute guidelines. Students should perform a fair use analysis for any copyrighted material they wish to include and seek permission from the author if fair use does not seem to apply.  
The student adheres to the University's published policies and procedures regarding research compliance (human subjects, animal subjects, hazardous materials, etc.) and Responsible Conduct of Research training.

For more information regarding the University's research policies and necessary training, please see
The student makes modifications to the thesis/dissertation as required by the thesis/dissertation chair and other committee members and makes any formatting changes required by the school.

The student must submit the final document, including committee-ordered revisions to the school on or before the published submission deadline. However, formatting changes requested by the school may be completed after the published submission deadline.


American University now accepts theses and dissertations in electronic format only. These formatting guidelines focus on creating an electronic file that meets the standards of the University and ProQuest Information and Learning.

Formatting Resources

The university has provided thesis and dissertation templates for users of MS Word and LaTeX. Instructions for formatting in MS Word without a template are also available.

Basic Requirements

The final electronic file that the student submits to the school or college must meet the following criteria:

  • Be submitted in PDF format.
  • Have acceptable font, margins, line spacing, page numbering and page layout.
  • Contain all required elements, in the order described below.
  • Tables of contents and lists of tables and illustrations (if needed) must be complete and accurate.

File Format

ProQuest requires that thesis and dissertation text be submitted as a single PDF document, without password protection, digital signature, or security settings that would prevent printing the document. Before the document is converted to PDF, fonts must be embedded. Microsoft Word (.doc) and Rich Text Format (.rtf) files are easily convertible to PDF documents using conversion utilities provided by Adobe ( and on the ProQuest thesis submission site ( It is also possible to convert a Word file to PDF within MS Word. As ProQuest publishes the PDF received from the student without altering it in any way, the student should carefully review the PDF to ensure that it corresponds to his/her original document.


A single font should be used throughout the entire thesis or dissertation, including text, captions, references, labels and headings. Fonts must be embedded in the document. ProQuest requires TrueType fonts, which will retain their look if a reader chooses to scale the document up or down for viewing. The University recommends 10 point Arial or 12 point Times New Roman. Italic, script and ornamental fonts should not be used, except when italics are allowed for non-English words and quotations. A longer list of recommended fonts and sizes can be found in UMI's "Preparing Your Manuscript" guide: Tables, captions, and footnotes should appear in the same font as the body of the text, but can be in a smaller size, not less than 10 point. Chapter and section headings may, if the student wishes, be up to 3 points larger than the main font size, but no larger than 14 point.


All pages must have margins of no less than one inch on all sides (left, right, top and bottom). Margins may be wider, but not narrower than one inch. Margins must be consistent throughout the document, except for chapter title pages, which may have wider top margins, up to two inches if desired. If chapter title page margins differ, they must be consistent across all major heading pages. Text may be either left-justified on all pages, leaving a ragged right margin, or full-justified, which will leave even margins on both sides.

Line Spacing

All text must be double-spaced, with the following exceptions (these are optional, but may enhance the readability of your document):

  • Quotations that are longer than 4 lines may be indented and single-spaced.
  • Scholarly references-footnotes, endnotes, bibliography or list of references-may be single-spaced, but double-spaced between entries.
  • Titles of more than one line within the Table of Contents, List of Tables and List of Illustrations may be single-spaced, with double-spacing between chapter entries.
    • Within the text, headings, captions and table titles of two or more lines may be single-spaced.
  • A triple-space may be used before subheadings within the document.

Paragraphs should be indented from the left margin.

Page Number Placement

Page numbers should be placed within the margins, at least three-fourths of an inch from the edge of the page, either at the bottom center, bottom right, or the top right of each page. If the student chooses the top right, s/he may place the page number at the bottom center when beginning a new chapter. Otherwise, the student should maintain a consistent page-number placement throughout the manuscript. On landscape-oriented pages containing graphs, figures, photos, or illustrations, the student may suppress page numbering if s/he wishes. Otherwise, the page number should be placed in the same location as on portrait-oriented pages.

Widows and Orphans

It is possible to set Word to avoid "widows and orphans," which are single lines at the end of a paragraph appearing on the top of a new page and headings or subheadings appearing on the last line of a page, with the content beginning on the next page. These are not prohibited, but avoiding them will improve the professional appearance and readability of the document.

Document Order

The formal elements of the thesis or dissertation are listed here. Specific formatting requirements for the Title Page, Copyright Page, and Table of Contents are listed in the sections below; other pages must adhere to the basic formatting requirements detailed in the above section (font, margins, justification, etc.).

The required order for the thesis/dissertation is:

  1. Title page (required, non-numbered)
  2. Copyright statement (recommended, not numbered)
  3. Dedication (optional, not numbered)
  4. Abstract (required, start page numbering on this page with lower-case Roman numeral ii)
  5. Preface or Foreword (optional, lower-case Roman)
  6. Acknowledgements (optional, lower-case Roman)
  7. Table of Contents (required, lower-case Roman)
  8. List of Tables (required if present, lower-case Roman)
  9. List of Illustrations (required if present, lower-case Roman)
  10. Body of Text (required, all numbered, Arabic numerals, beginning with 1 on first page of chapter 1)
  11. Appendices (if any, numbered, Arabic)
  12. References or Bibliography (usually required, numbered, Arabic)

Each chapter must begin on a new page and all pages must be numbered consecutively (consecutive lower-case roman numerals for the abstract through the list of illustrations and, starting over with page 1 for the first page of the first chapter, consecutive Arabic numerals for the rest of the document). The document must not contain any blank pages.

Title Page

The title page MUST include the following information.

  • The full title of the thesis / dissertation, typed in all capital letters and centered on the page.
  • The word "By" and the student's name as it appears in university records, centered on the page below the title.
  • A standard degree statement centered on the page, below the student's name (see sample page in Appendix A for proper wording). Master's degree candidates should use the word "thesis" and doctoral candidates should use the word "dissertation."
  • An alphabetical list of all members of the thesis/dissertation committee, but with the Chair first (If a member is of any professorial rank, use the title "Professor"; if not, use "Dr." or other title as appropriate). Each name should be typed immediately below a signature line and the list should appear on the right side of the document, below the degree statement.
  • The words "Dean of" [student's school or college], typed below a signature line and above a line for the date the page was signed. This should appear on the left side of the document, below the committee names.
  • The year (not month or day) the student's degree will be granted, and the words American University, Washington D.C. 20016, centered at the bottom of the page.

Except for the title, which must be in all capital letters, the first letter of each word should be capitalized, except for articles and prepositions.

Copyright Page

Students who choose to register their copyright with the Library of Congress through UMI must include a copyright page in their documents. Students who do not choose to register their copyright are also encouraged to include a copyright page in order to indicate that they have reserved all rights to the work, but are not required to do so. The copyright page should include a copyright statement, the student's name and the year of graduation recorded on the thesis or dissertation title page.


The abstract provides a summary of the thesis/dissertation. Abstracts include a statement of the problem, a summary of methods or procedures, the results, and the conclusions. (Contents may vary according to discipline.) The abstract must be in English. Mathematical formulas, diagrams, and other illustrative materials are not recommended for the abstract.

Although the university does not place a word limit on the abstract, students should be aware of the word limits in UMI's Dissertations and Theses Abstracts indexes. Abstracts of any length will appear complete in ProQuest's Online Dissertations and Theses database; however there are word limits for the print indexes. Abstracts for the master's thesis that exceed 150 words will be truncated in the print index, as will abstracts for doctoral dissertations that exceed 350 words. If the student wishes to ensure that the entire abstract appears in the print index, s/he can choose to adhere to UMI's word limits.

The abstract page should include the title of the thesis or dissertation, centered in all capital letters at the top of the page, the author's name (centered), the word "ABSTRACT" (centered) and then the body of the abstract (left or full-justified). See Appendix A for an example.

Table of Contents

A table of contents is required in all theses and dissertations. At minimum, the table of contents must list all front matter from the abstract forward (except for the table of contents), each chapter title and all end matter (appendices, references). If desired, one or two levels of sub-headings may also be included, but must be included consistently (i.e. if one first-level subheading is listed, all first-level subheadings must be listed). Chapter subheadings may be single-spaced, but double?spacing must be used between chapters or major sections. Dot leaders may be used or not, as desired. Most software?generated tables of contents would be acceptable.

Please note that the numbering of the entries in the table of contents must be consistent with any numbering system used in the text. Thus, if the student numbers subheadings within Chapter 1 as 1.1, 1.2, and so on, this same numbering must be used in the table of contents. It is not necessary to number or label subheadings, however. Pagination in the table of contents must accurately correspond to pagination in the text, and headings should be worded in the table of contents exactly as they are worded in the text. Also the page numbers printed in the table of contents must be flush right. Appendix A contains a sample table of contents.

List of Tables/List of Illustrations

If the thesis or dissertation contains at least one figure or one table, the appropriate list or lists must be present. These lists should be formatted in the same fashion as the table of contents. A table includes written material or data, whereas a figure refers to non?textual illustrative material. Unless the Style Guide directs otherwise, student should use the table and figure captions from the text to identify these in the list. All captions and numbering must correspond exactly to those within the text.


The body of the thesis / dissertation should be typed continuously (except in cases where breaks are necessary to avoid widows and orphans), double-spaced, with each new chapter beginning on a fresh page. If desired for style reasons, the chapter title may be typed no more than three inches from the top of the page, and may be typed in a font size not more than three points larger than the base font size and no larger than 14 point.


Headings and subheadings used in the document must be formatted and labeled in a clear and consistent manner. Each level of heading or subheading should be formatted in a manner distinct from the other heading levels and the same formatting used for that level of heading throughout the document. The student should consult his/her chosen style guide for an appropriate scheme. The AU Heading styles found in the AU Microsoft Word templates, which are drawn from the Turabian manual, are always acceptable.

Charts, Graphs, Tables and Figures (Illustrations)

All illustrations must be numbered consecutively (with tables separately numbered) and should be placed as close as possible to the text that refers to them, within 1-3 pages. The student should consult his/her style manual for a consistent numbering and identification system. Illustrations and tables must be listed in the preliminary pages. All illustrations must fit within the appropriate page margins. If illustrations fall outside the margins, they should be re-sized to fit. Figure captions should be consistent with the body of the thesis / dissertation text-these, like footnotes, can be 2 points smaller than the text, but no smaller than 10 point. Figures and tables may be placed on landscape pages, if necessary, and tables may be split across multiple pages if the entire table cannot be placed on a single page. Whenever possible, however, figures and tables should fit on one page. Students should be aware that all colors will be reproduced as gray in the microform copy of the thesis or dissertation and take care to choose colors that will convert well to grayscale.

Supplementary Materials

Supplementary materials, such as audio, video, spreadsheets or computer programs, can be submitted as supplementary files during the online submission process. Media files should not be embedded in the PDF. For acceptable file formats, see the guide "Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission" available at A description of each supplementary file should be included in the abstract.


The student should submit the final version of his/her thesis or dissertation as early as possible during the semester in which s/he expects to graduate and must do so by the final submission deadline listed on the ETD website in order to qualify for the degree in that semester.

In order for the thesis or dissertation submission to be considered complete, the student must submit via the ETD Administrator site a PDF file of the thesis or dissertation containing the title page signed by the student's committee members and the Dean of the school or college. (See Appendix B for instructions on how to prepare the PDF.):

Outline of Submission Process

Please consult staff in your school or college for more information regarding the submission process, as order of steps may vary.

1. Student submits or defends thesis or dissertation to committee.

2. Student makes any content revisions required by the committee and finalizes document formatting.

3. Committee approves final version of thesis or dissertation regarding content. Student submits document to school for formatting review via the online submission system, following the instructions in the next section of this guide.

4. Student collects committee members' signatures on a printed copy of the thesis title page. This may be done in person at the time of defense or may be coordinated following approval-see school or college for details.

5. Student drops the title page off at the school or college for Dean's signature.

6. Student scans signed title page and merges the page into thesis or dissertation PDF document. After making all formatting changes required by the school, student uploads completed thesis or dissertation document via online submission system.

Instructions for Online Document Submission

American University students are required to submit their completed theses or dissertations to ProQuest/UMI via UMI's electronic submission site.

Before beginning the electronic submission process, the student should make sure that his/her file is in PDF format (if not, the student will have an opportunity to convert the file to PDF on the submission site) and that it meets the formatting guidelines detailed in this document.

Students are required to submit their thesis or dissertation to the school or college one month before the final submission deadline to allow adequate time for formatting review. Students generally should not submit their thesis or dissertation online before it has been approved or successfully defended. However, if the defense cannot be scheduled before the formatting review submission deadline, the student may submit a draft version.

  1. Go to American University's UMI ETD submission site:
  2. Create an Account. The student should click on "My Account," located on the left side of the site's home page. S/he will be prompted to enter an email address and other information. After the student enters this information, a password will be emailed to the account s/he specifies.
  3. Log In. Once the student has created an account, s/he can log in and begin the submission process.
  4. Word to PDF conversion. If the student has not already created a PDF document, s/he can do so using Proquest's Word to PDF conversion tool, located on the left side of the site. The student should review the resulting PDF carefully to make sure that it matches the source document.
  5. The student should click "Submit Your Dissertation." This begins the submission process. The student will need to supply information on a number of subsequent pages.

    Submission Agreement. On this page, the student will select publishing options both for ProQuest/UMI and the American University Digital Repository. For more information about these options, see Chapter 5. The student should select the desired publishing type and other publishing options from UMI. To delay the release of the thesis or dissertation through UMI and/or the AU Digital Repository, the student should select this option in the "Delaying the Release of Your Work" section and choose his/her reason for doing so from the drop-down menu.

    If the student has been approved for a permanent embargo, s/he should select one of the delayed release options in the menu and, in the "Notes to Administrator" box, type a note requesting that the work be placed under permanent embargo in ProQuest and/or the AU Digital Repository. The staff reviewing the submission will then apply the permanent embargo(es) and the student will receive an email confirmation of the change.

    After completing this page, the student must view and accept both the UMI and AU Digital Repository publishing agreements.

    Contact Information The student should enter current and future contact information in the spaces provided. It is imperative that this information be as accurate as possible, as AU or ProQuest staff may need to contact the student regarding the thesis or dissertation after the student leaves the University.

    Dissertation/Thesis Details. In this section, the student will enter information regarding his/her thesis or dissertation, such as the title, abstract, degree earned, and names of committee members. The student will also choose ProQuest index terms and keywords to help researchers find the thesis or dissertation. The information entered here will not be edited by ProQuest. If the abstract contains special characters, the student will need to code these according to the instructions on the site to ensure that they display properly.

  6. The student will then upload the PDF and any supplementary files (music, sound, video, computer programs, etc.) to be included as part of the thesis or dissertation. In the next section, the student may choose to purchase products and services offered by ProQuest.

    Copyright Application. For a fee, ProQuest can register the copyright on a thesis or dissertation with the United States Copyright Office on the student's behalf. The student must either accept or decline this option before the submission can be completed. The $55 registration fee can be paid by credit card as part of the submission process. See Chapter 5 for more information about thesis and dissertation copyright. Note: If the student chooses to register copyright through ProQuest s/he is required to include a copyright notice in his/her document.

    Order Bound Copies. If desired, the student may order bound copies of the thesis or dissertation.

  7. After completing these steps, the student must click submit on the final "Submit" page.
  8. The student will receive a system-generated email confirming submission of the ETD. The school or college will also receive an email notification regarding the submission. After reviewing the document, staff from the school or college will notify the student if formatting revisions are required or if the format has been accepted. The submission will be unlocked to allow the student to upload a new file with the signed title page and any required formatting changes. The student must log in using the log-in and password chosen when the account was created and click on the "Revise" link on the home page. After the thesis/dissertation has been submitted, no revisions may be made to the content of the document without notifying the school. The only changes that are permitted are those related to format as directed by the school or college. Students should be aware that the version with the signed title page will be considered final and submitted to UMI without further notice to the student unless corrections are required by the school.

This chapter includes information about ProQuest/UMI, the AU Digital Research Archive (AUDRA) and the publishing restrictions students can choose during the submission process. This chapter also contains information about the copyright issues related to theses and dissertations. Students are encouraged to familiarize themselves with this information during the proposal stage and begin doing the necessary research to make informed decisions during the submission stage.

During the submission process, and as a condition of graduation, students are required to enter into publishing agreements with ProQuest/UMI and the AU Digital Research Archive. The UMI Publishing agreement and AU Digital Research Archive license agreement are both non-exclusive licenses. The student grants American University and ProQuest a one-time, non-exclusive right to archive, release, and reprint the thesis or dissertation. The student retains all rights to publish and re-use his/her work elsewhere in the future, and can put restrictions on the release of his/her materials.

After the thesis or dissertation has been approved by the school or college, it is sent to ProQuest/UMI for inclusion in ProQuest's Dissertations and Theses database. (A record of the thesis will be searchable in the database. Depending upon restrictions chosen by the student, either a 24-page preview or the full-text of the thesis or dissertation will also be visible in the database.) A microform copy will be sent to the American University Library, where it will be made available to interested researchers for on-site use. An electronic copy will also be sent to the AU Digital Research Archive.

Publication Agreements and Options

ProQuest/UMI Agreement

ProQuest/UMI maintains, through an arrangement with the Library of Congress, the bibliographic record for master's theses and doctoral dissertations dating back to 1861. This is done through the ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (PQDT) database, a popular research tool to which many university libraries, including the American University Library, subscribe. The database includes 2.7 million thesis and dissertation citations, including 1.2 million full-text theses and dissertations. Nearly 700 institutions submit titles to the database, including every accredited doctoral degree granting institution in North America.

The ProQuest/UMI publishing agreement allows the student to choose between two types of publication and, if desired, to apply for delayed release (or "embargo") of the document and/or other distribution restrictions. These choices are explained here.

Publication Types

  • Traditional Publishing-This type of publishing allows ProQuest/UMI to sell copies of the thesis or dissertation and pay a portion of the proceeds to the author. ProQuest will host the work and offer it for sale through its database, offering a free 24-page preview to subscribers. The author is entitled to receive a royalty payment of 10% of all income ProQuest Information and Learning receives from the sale of the work, payable when the accrued royalties reach $25.00 (provided they do so within 25 years of publication). This option is free to students who submit electronically.
  • Open Access Publishing-The full text of a thesis or dissertation published under this option will be made freely available to anyone with an Internet connection as part of the PQDT Open Access database. ProQuest/UMI may also sell copies of the work, but the author will not be eligible to receive royalties from these sales. ProQuest/UMI charges $95 for this option. Open Access distribution is available to all AU students through the American University Digital Research Archive at no additional cost.

Embargoes and Restrictions

  • Embargoes-Students have the option of placing an embargo on their work. This means that the record of the work will appear in the ProQuest database, but the preview will not be visible and the work will not be available for sale until the embargo expires. Students may choose from the following embargo options during the submission process: 6 months, 1 year and 2 years. Permanent embargoes require the approval of the Dean of the student's school or college. Students who wish to request a permanent embargo should notify the ETD contact for their school or college.
  • Restrictions-Students can choose to restrict ProQuest from sharing data about their thesis or dissertation with search engines such as Google.
    Students may wish to consider embargoes in the following circumstances:
    1. Student has patents pending based on research outlined in his/her thesis or dissertation.
    2. Thesis or dissertation contains sensitive or classified information.
    3. Accessibility of thesis or dissertation may interfere with an existing or potential publishing agreement. (Note: It is important for students to speak with potential publishers and read the publishing agreements in order to know if posting the work elsewhere will interfere with the agreement. Many publishers take the view that works based on theses and dissertations differ so substantially from the works on which they are based that posting the thesis or dissertation elsewhere will not hurt the market for the book or article.)
    4. Granting agency for research funds or primary investigator for research project may require delayed release.

AU Library Digital Research Archive Agreement

In order to support the common interest in broad, rapid and affordable dissemination of peer-reviewed literature shared by scholars and their institutions, American University Library hosts the Open Access Digital Research Archive. This repository serves as a means to archive and disseminate scholarly works, teaching tools and other literature produced by AU faculty and students. The AU Digital Research Archive makes files-including theses and dissertations-available via the Internet, with permanent URLs. Descriptive information on the available documents is distributed freely to search engines. A student may block access to his/her work by requesting an embargo. During the embargo period, the AU Digital Research Archive will contain a record of the work (title, author, abstract), but the full-text will not be accessible. In addition to choosing from the same embargo options offered through ProQuest, students can opt to make the work campus-accessible only, meaning that the item can only be viewed by authenticated AU users. Requests for permanent embargo require the Dean's approval.

Potential benefits of Open Access publishing include:

  • The student's research can be found, read, and used by a global audience, including scholarly colleagues and potential publishers and employers.
  • The student's research can be found by most popular search engines, such as Google or Yahoo, as well as through special repository search engines.
  • Increased accessibility to the student's research may increase the likelihood of it being cited.
  • Access to the student's work is maintained with a permanent URL, to which the student can refer and link from a CV, email messages, or web pages.

Resources for Students Making Publication Decisions

Students can consult many resources to help them make decisions regarding publication and copyright. Students may find it helpful to speak with mentors in their field. It is expected that students and committee chairs will discuss and reach mutual agreement regarding which embargo option, if any, the student will select. If a student's thesis/dissertation research is externally funded, the student should check with the funding source to determine if that source has any requirements or restrictions with regard to publication. For example, a student may be required to provide open access to the research if it is publicly funded, or to delay access for a certain period of time. If a student has previously published a portion of the thesis or dissertation, s/he should carefully review the existing publishing agreements to determine if it will be necessary to delay publication through ProQuest or the AU Digital Research Archive. A student who hopes to publish a work derived from his/her thesis or dissertation in the future should ask potential publishers about their policies regarding publishing works based on theses and dissertations that are available elsewhere.

Copyright Information

Copyright protects creative and intellectual original works of authorship including (but not limited to) books, journals, photographs, art, music, sound recordings, computer programs, websites, motion pictures, dance choreography, and architecture. A student's thesis or dissertation will be protected by copyright and may also involve the use of other copyrighted works. A student will need to consider how to manage his/her own copyright and will also need to ensure that s/he is not violating anyone else's copyright.

Copyright Protection for Theses and Dissertations

Copyright is an automatic protection for any "original work of authorship" that is "fixed in a tangible medium of expression." A student's thesis or dissertation is protected by copyright as soon as s/he writes it, whether or not the student chooses to include a copyright notice on the work, or register it with the U.S. Copyright Office. However, registering with the Copyright Office does offer additional protection, such as allowing the author to collect statutory damages in case of a successful infringement lawsuit. The copyright notice makes clear the name of the copyright holder to anyone who would like to request permission to use portions of a work.

If desired, the student may register his/her thesis or dissertation copyright directly through the U.S. Copyright Office or through University Microfilms for a fee during the electronic submission process.

Copyright Compliance in the Thesis/Dissertation

A student who wishes to use material created by another author in his/her thesis or dissertation must conduct an analysis to determine if the intended use qualifies as fair use or if permission is required. The fair use doctrine under U.S. copyright law provides for some exceptions to the exclusive rights of a copyright holder, but does not provide absolute guidelines as to what constitutes fair use. A fair use analysis takes into account the nature of the use (whether it is for commercial, or non-profit educational use), the nature of the copyrighted work, the proportion of the use in relation to the work as a whole, and the effect of the use on the potential market of the copyrighted work. Students can use the fair use checklist developed by Kenneth Crews of the Columbia University Copyright Advisory Office to perform a fair use analysis.

The student certifies by accepting the UMI and American University Digital Research Archive publishing agreements that s/he is not infringing or violating the rights of other authors. Accordingly, the student must obtain written permission from the copyright owner if s/he uses portions of a work that exceed fair use guidelines.

Letters of permission are also required for: Poems, Song lyrics, Musical scores, Surveys or portions of surveys, Standardized tests, Questionnaires/Responses to Questionnaires, Materials already reproduced in another work, Interviews, Letters, Speeches, Previously published portions of the thesis/dissertation, and Trademarks or logos.

Letters or permission are strongly recommended for: Maps, Tables, Figures, Charts, Cartoons, Newspaper articles, Illustrations, Photographs, Sounds files, and Video clips.

If the thesis or dissertation includes continuous or extensive quotes from a particular author, especially in such fields as fiction, drama, poetry, or criticism; or if it includes reproduced maps, charts, statistical tables, or other similar materials that have been copyrighted, the student must write to the copyright owner(s), describe the use to which s/he is putting the material, and request permission to include it in the thesis or dissertation. This practice also applies if the student cites his/her own published work(s) and his/her publisher holds the copyright.

Other important permission-related copyright scenarios include the following:

  • If the student's published material lists a co-author, and if the co-author is listed by reason of having directed and supervised the research that serves as the basis of the thesis or dissertation, only the student's name should be listed as the author in the preliminary pages of the thesis or dissertation. The Acknowledgments section should state, "The text of this (thesis/dissertation) (in part/in full) is a reprint of the materials as it appears in (names of publications). The co-author(s) listed in the publication(s) directed and supervised the research that forms the basis for this thesis or dissertation."
  • If the student owns the copyright of the published material, the student must supply a copyright page showing the following information for each publication:
    • Copyright by (name of author/copyright owner)
    • Copyright Registration Number (obtain this number from copyright certificate)
    • Year copyright was obtained
  • For the master's thesis or doctoral dissertation: when the copyright owner(s) is someone other than the student, a written statement from the copyright owner(s) is submitted when the thesis/dissertation is filed, granting the student permission to use the copyrighted material and authorizing American University and ProQuest/UMI to reproduce the material by photocopy or in microfilms on a one-at-a-time basis.

Each letter of permission must give permission to the thesis/dissertation author to use the materials, University Microfilms to sell copies of the thesis/dissertation containing those materials, and American University to make the thesis/dissertation containing those materials freely available via the World Wide Web. Copies of permission letters must be submitted by the student to UMI as specified in the guide " Preparing Your Manuscript for Submission" except when such letters must be retained to maintain confidentiality of survey or questionnaire respondents. In the latter case it is acceptable to submit a letter informing University Microfilms that the letters of permission are in the author's possession. University Microfilms will not publish thesis/dissertation pages containing material for which permission is not available.

The waiting period for obtaining requested letters of permission may be lengthy, and the thesis/dissertation author is advised to begin this process early. Sending a letter that includes a form with signature and date lines to the copyright owner may expedite the process.

See sample letter to copyright owner in Appendix C.

Copyright Resources

There are several excellent websites with information that can help students understand the copyright and fair use policies that affect their theses and dissertations. Some recommended websites include:

United States Copyright Office

Columbia University Library, Copyright Advisory Office

Boston College Copyright LibGuides