Yes, I really DO want to read your dissertation--please?
June 10, 2008 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Is it in bad form to ask an author directly via email for an electronic copy of a dissertation or non-refereed academic article, if I, as a student, have no other method of access to the resources?

I am in the process of writing a term paper for a college course and have run across citations for a dissertation and a presented paper at a conference, both by the same author (a professor at a school across the US from where I am.) Is it presumptuous of me to assume that it would be easy and normal for this professor to simply email me a copy of these two pieces of writing, without expectation of royalties or anything else? They're clearly for academic research purposes only, are extremely recent (no reason they would not be in electronic form, in other words), and are unavailable to me via any other modality.

Anyone have any tips as to things I should include in this email, provided I do end up sending it?
posted by rhoticity to Education (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
First go to your university library (and its website) and see if they have the dissertation in Dissertation Abstracts. It is quite possible that you can get it through the library.

If the library doesn't have it, THEN you can email and ask.
posted by k8t at 5:32 AM on June 10, 2008

Best answer: As an academic, that would strike me as fine. If I was you I would just say: Dear X, I am doing some research into XXXX and am interested in reading your articles 'Title, conference' which I think might be relevant to my work. I have been unable to get copies of the work from other sources and wondered if it would be possible to get electronic copies from yourself.

Many thanks,
posted by biffa at 5:34 AM on June 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's not bad form at all. Check that the professor has not already included it on their web site, and make it clear that you have exhausted your methods of acquisition.

Academics generally want their work read as widely as possible; the person isn't going to ask for royalties unless you want to reproduce it. Personally, I would be delighted to get a request like this (unless I had already put the paper on my web site, in which case I would be annoyed).
posted by grouse at 5:35 AM on June 10, 2008

No it would not be presumptuous. Also, I guarantee that they do the same things sometimes (saying's I've received these emails, from professors, even, at big universities).

Make it short, but do include a full and specific reference. You may want to add a sentence or two about what your specific topic is and its context. If they have written on something worth using as a source once, it's possible they've written something even better that you don't know about yet.

And spell check and be professional, the usual. Sign off with gratitude, and looking forward to hearing from them.
posted by whatzit at 5:35 AM on June 10, 2008

If the school the professor is at has an electronic dissertation library (aka Digital Archive), a copy may be in there. I actually maintain the server that Texas A&M's ETD library lives on. I don't know how the request process works to get a copy from that archive, but I know it's possible to do through the library.
posted by SpecialK at 5:39 AM on June 10, 2008

Response by poster: She does not provide any publications on her website, nothing in Google Scholar (except a straight-up citation) or any library databases, and I already checked with the research librarian--we don't have access to this particular school's dissertations, at least not in the time frame that I need. So yep, I've been pretty exhaustive.

Frighteningly enough, biffa, my draft email was almost exactly what you suggested. Glad to know I'm not entirely terrible at this whole game of academia ;)
posted by rhoticity at 5:42 AM on June 10, 2008

I've done it many times. People are usually very gracious about it. Everyone likes to know they're relevant and being read, after all. The article is probably no big deal, but you should check UMI before you ask for the dissertation. Go through your library and consult a reference librarian if you can't easily get access to their archives.
posted by felix betachat at 5:42 AM on June 10, 2008

A professor (or any PhD probably) would LOVE it if someone wanted to read their dissertation. At least somebody will have read it, or at least looked at it. Most PhD theses are never read by more than a few dozen people. So just send the email!

One tip: Send the reasons why you want to read it and probably a bit (just a bit) about your project / ideas. Then the good doctor can point you to the sections that may be relevant. Cause you (probably) don't want to wade through 400 pages to find the nuggets that are probably all clustered in 10-15 pages. Hence why no-one reads anyone's dissertations.
posted by zpousman at 5:43 AM on June 10, 2008

I agee with all other comments, also, in the spirit of academia, offer to send a copy of your paper when it is complete.
posted by mateuslee at 5:47 AM on June 10, 2008

Most PhD theses are never read by more than a few dozen people.

Coming in late to say that this is a normal request, everyone does it, and usually (but not always) people are delighted to help. Sometimes they can't -- no electronic copy, say -- or they won't -- too busy, not very helpful, want to keep their ideas secret, etc. But asking is not rude, as long as you do it in the way suggested.
posted by Forktine at 6:41 AM on June 10, 2008

Add to that, chances are quite good that a recent PhD can also give you more recent work based on the dissertation that is currently at the review or pre-press stage. I know some active researchers who don't even bother to read journals, they just have a network of contacts that feed them articles in progress.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:45 AM on June 10, 2008

In support of the idea that people want their theses read, I knew of a department in which it was common for authors to put $20 bills in the library annex copies of theirs as a reward to whomever read it first.
posted by ecsh at 6:54 AM on June 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Haha, I know what I'm doing tomorrow ecsh!
posted by oxford blue at 8:02 AM on June 10, 2008

It's probably fine, assuming the sort of note biffa described. I might add that the relative seniority and fame (within the adacemic world) of the author will make some difference. If you're talking about an assistant professor recently out of grad school, a request for a copy would probably make their day, in fact. ("Someone's heard of me!!") If it's the most famous person at Princeton/Harvard/CalTech/Stanford/..., then I doubt they'll even reply. I once had a half hour conversation with Super Famous Prof after a paper *I* gave and *he* asked to see, and he still didn't reply to me. Probably got distracted by some other Super Famous Prof on the way back to his hotel room.

Also, I may be stating the obvious here, but asking for an electronic copy of a dissertation is one thing, but asking for a hard copy is another. Authors generally only get a few hard copies and they're expensive, whereas a Word file is less trouble. Dissertations are also big, long unruly beasts, so you might ask specifically if there is a chapter that pertains to your work and whether they could pass that along.
posted by el_lupino at 9:01 AM on June 10, 2008

I do this pretty often. Never fails.
posted by hAndrew at 10:41 AM on June 10, 2008

As a professor with a dissertation, I wouldn't have any problem receiving such a request.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:40 PM on June 10, 2008

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