Theses and Dissertations are the written documents produced by students for a higher degree or as part of their undergraduate studies.
British and Irish Theses and Dissertations
British theses are not usually published documents, so the author holds the copyright, though it is usual for some rights to be assigned to an awarding institution. The type of degree to which the thesis or dissertation relates often makes a difference as to whether it might be available for consultation or loan.
Many undergraduate students write a dissertation but these are not normally held in university libraries. They may be held in the appropriate university department, but most are not available for consultation or loan. In the vast majority of cases the only way of acquiring a copy is through direct contact with the student.
Taught Course Theses and Dissertations
Many taught postgraduate degrees (masters) – typically those with a designation such as MA, MSc or MBA – require the submission of a dissertation in support of their work. Some universities hold copies of these in their library, while others keep them in their departments. Most are not available for interlending but some may be consulted in the awarding university's library or appropriate department. Enquiries should be made to the awarding university.
These are completed for doctoral and some masters degrees. The designation is usually PhD, DPhil, MD or MPhil. They make an original contribution to knowledge and are important sources of primary research.
Theses are increasingly being made available electronically. Many universities already require their students to submit electronic versions of their doctoral thesis, either alongside or instead of paper copies, and these may be available for consultation via various routes.
EThOS is the national thesis service; it offers researchers across the world a single point of access to UK doctoral theses, showcasing the breadth and quality of UK research. Users can search over 350,000 records and access the full text of more than 120,000 theses for free, either by downloading from EThOS or by following links to copies held in the awarding institution's repository. Abstracts are available for thousands more. Users can also order a digital copy of an original paper thesis, although there may be a charge for this. If none of these options are available, users are directed to contact the awarding institution direct to find out how to view the item.
The other ways to access UK doctoral theses are to search the repository of the awarding university if you are seeking a specific thesis. A search on EThOS is equivalent to using the Index to Theses, a subscription database that holds bibliographic data for thousands of UK doctoral and masters theses, as well as a small collection of theses from Ireland.
For paper theses, policies on lending vary between universities. Some universities require a user to sign a Copyright Declaration Form before consulting a thesis, the terms of which vary in accordance with the awarding university's regulations. Most theses may only be borrowed for reference use and there are limitations on how much can be copied or quoted.
Some theses may contain material that is commercially or politically sensitive. These may not be available for loan. Enquiries should be made to the awarding university's library.
For a summary of the policies of higher education institutions in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire regarding the lending and copying of paper theses, please see the FIL publication 'Lending Theses Policies' (PDF file, 255KB, 15 pages).
At the international level considerable progress has been made. An example of this is the global 'Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations' (NDLTD).
ADT is the Australasian Digital Thesis Program to establish a distributed database of digital versions of theses produced by the postgraduate research students of Australian universities.
The British Library collection contains more than 475,000 US doctoral theses acquired from UMI (now ProQuest) in microform and several hundred Canadian doctoral theses. In September 2001 the British Library stopped acquiring these. Copies of many North American theses can be purchased online from ProQuest Dissertation Publishing with a credit card.
Alternatively, applications for overseas theses not held at the British Library can be made direct to the awarding university, or through the British Library's Worldwide Searches service.