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Electronic Thesis, Dissertation Questions Answered

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 29 - April 24, 1997

In response to concerns about the electronic thesis and dissertation (ETD) requirement, such as whether there is a conflict with other types of publication, members of Virginia Tech's ETD project team have posted a letter with answers to frequent questions on the university's web (http://etd.vt.edu/etd/students/students.html).

Speaking for the team, computer science Professor Edward Fox said students' electronic theses or dissertations "will contribute to world-wide graduate education as we build a Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) in collaboration with other scholarly institutions. The Electronic Theses and Dissertations Initiative at Virginia Tech has several goals, including to help (students in their careers), to help other learners and researchers, and to make available many works that are now "lost" (e.g., theses that led to no other publications and that only are available through inter-library loan)."

He said most publishers contacted by the ETD Project Team support the initiative, "realizing that theses and dissertations are very different from previously published or derivative books and articles. We believe that making ETD's available will supplement the efforts of publishers so both activities can proceed in harmony."

Students are urged to prepare ETD's "to harmonize with publishing practices," and so that the research becomes as widely disseminated as possible, as soon as possible.

Questions addressed in the letter include why theses and dissertations must be submitted electronically, why paper versions are not required for University Libraries, how ETD's will be accessed, why ETD's should be freely available, what the options are regarding access, and what to do if previous or planned publications relate to the content of the ETD.

The answers explain that preparing an ETD and submitting it electronically teaches students about electronic document preparation and about digital libraries, skills that will help prepare the student for a role in the Information Age. An electronic document can often convey more and better information than text alone.

By not accepting paper, the university reduces handling and library costs, saves the student money, and makes it possible for access to increase. People can link to the university collection for browsing, and even link directly to an ETD with a special type of URL that is not subject to change. Various technologies will support flexible searching and long-term archiving.

Making students' research accessible will stimulate education and research, ensure that many people give students credit for their work, and that the research is cited in others' publications. Electronic access multiplies the number of times works are read by a factor of 10 or more, Fox and colleagues report. "We believe that about 200,000 theses or dissertations are completed each year. With electronic theses and dissertations, students and universities can more easily share knowledge, with much lower costs."

Virginia Tech gives students three options regarding affording electronic access. The first option, which is the one recommended, is to make the thesis or dissertation freely available world-wide. The second option is to make the ETD freely available to the university community but disallow access to others. This restriction is only for a period of one year, but may be extended a year at a time. The third option is to restrict access for a period of a year, even disallowing access by the university community. This option addresses situations such as when a patent application is planned, or when proprietary interests are at stake.

What if a book is planned related to the thesis or dissertation? An electronic work with a large number of electronic accesses may help land a book contract. However, since publishers vary widely in their policies, students should inquire, and are encouraged to ask the ETD project team for advice.

The letter also offers options for using other people's published material in ETD's.

Fox said, "Remember that preparing a thesis or dissertation is part of the graduate experience, one aim of which is to prepare students to be a part of the world of research and publication." He hopes students will take steps when they deal with publishers to help other students gain the widest possible access to the research in theses and dissertations.