ETDs (Electronic Theses and Dissertations) @ USF

Joe Moxley, University of South Florida,


When print emerged, universities failed to recognize its importance and almost managed to marginalize themselves into oblivion.  With a new major transition upon us, such benign neglect simply will not do.  Yet the challenges universities face in responding to an increasingly digitized and networked world are staggering.  Universities need a vision allowing them to express their dearest values in new forms, rather than protect their present form at the expense of their most fundamental values.

Jean-Claude Guédon, Conseiller, Publications électroniques, Presses de l’Universitié de Montreal, 1998.



USF’s graduate students have a remarkable and unprecedented opportunity to write theses and dissertations that reach a significant audience.  While in the past theses and dissertations were read by only a handful of people—rarely more than one or two readers beyond the committee—theses or dissertations that are archived at the NDLTD (Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations) or UMI are being read by thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of readers.  Thanks these digital libraries, researchers can have immediate access to theses and dissertations, which often provide comprehensive and timely reviews of literature.  In addition, new technologies are providing new authoring spaces, which enable faculty and students to research and collaborate online, and to transform the traditional shape of academic research—that is, to incorporate streaming multimedia, interactive elements, animation, and visual rhetoric. 

Since 1997, after chairing the USF Task Force on ETDs that recommended USF adopt a mandatory ETD requirement (see, I have worked with faculty to research the implications of electronic thesis and dissertations.  Bruce Cochrane (Biology and Interdisciplinary Studies), Terry Beavers (IT), Rosann Collins (MIS), Anita Callahan  (Engineering), Monica Metz-Wiseman (Library), Ilene Frank (Library), and Claire Robinson (IT)—these faculty and staff have played a crucial role in helping graduate students write ETDs and a few undergraduate honors students write their theses.  As volunteers, we offer workshops and provide a research forum.  Last year we sponsored the NDLTD’s Third International  Symposium on ETDs, which was attended by representatives from 13 countries, 34 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. Below are the FAQs, Frequently Asked Questions, that we are commonly asked about ETDs.  If you have additional questions or if you wish to join our pilot study, we invite you to visit our website: 


What are ETDs?  |  What are digital libraries of ETDs?  |  Why bother writing an ETD or submitting it to a digital library?  | Does writing an ETD have to be a big deal?  |  Will Publishers Still Accept Your Manuscript  |  What universities are requiring ETDs?  |  How do universities benefit from ETDs?  | |  How do faculty benefit from ETDs?  |  How do faculty benefit from ETDs?  |  How are other countries implementing ETDs?  |  What is UMI? What is the NDLTD?  |  What is USF’s Policy on ETDs?  |  How will ETDs transform graduate education?


What are ETDs?

The term ETD refers to “electronic theses or dissertations” that are available electronically—that is, available on a disk, CD, Web site, or digital library.  Most ETDs are traditional texts that are archived in Adobe's PDF (portable document format). Increasingly, though, graduate students are experimenting with new software tools that enable them to incorporate streaming multimedia such as video files of interviews and communities.  Some ETDs deviate from the traditional five-chapter dissertation, presenting collages of documents that include color images, streaming multimedia, animation, and interactive features. 


What are digital libraries of ETDs?

The largest university-based collection of ETDs is maintained by the NDLTD (Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations), a consortium of research universities (see  Presently, the Networked Digital Library, an international consortium of research universities, hosts approximately 9,000 ETDs.  The NDLTD (Networked Digital Library of Thesis at Dissertations (see and has created a "notables" page of view its most popular ETDs at  Over 100 research universities and institutions have joined the NDLTD, including USF, MIT, and the University of Texas at Austin.

The largest for-profit collection is stored by UMI, University Microfilms International, a division of Bell and Howell (see  UMI, a private company that has been the established central repository and disseminator for print dissertations over the last 50 years, scans all the print dissertations it receives and converts them to PDF files which are now available to be downloaded via the internet for the same fee required for a print copy.  Thanks to UMI’s Current Research@ service (see, users can search citations and abstracts of dissertations and theses submitted by participating institutions and view 24 page previews of dissertations published after 1996; in addition, authorized users from participating institutions can download the full text of dissertations and theses published after 1996 at no cost.  Over 190 institutions participate at this UMI site including Harvard, Brown, Carnegie-Mellon, University of Chicago, and several of the Big Ten state universities. 

A few additional for-profit organizations are creating digital libraries of ETDs, including and 


Why bother writing an ETD or submitting it to a digital library?

Gain Access to Readers
At Virginia Tech, for example, many popular theses and dissertations are available to the public electronically. In 1996, there were 25,829 requests for ETD abstracts and 4,600 requests for ETDs themselves; by 1999 (January-August), there were over 143,056 requests for abstracts and 244,987 requests for ETDs. As of October 1999, the most popular ETD at VT had been requested over 75,000 times.  ( See VT's download statistics at   

Be Original

Being original is a defining feature of academic research.  Using new media can empower you to conduct research in new ways.  You can incorporate streaming video, interviews of subjects and settings, which readers can then view, which could be particularly useful for case study or ethnographically informed research.  You can provide different reading pathways for multiple audiences.  For example, inexperienced lay audiences can have a more simplified version of your study whereas more technical audiences can have more detailed analysis and citations. The technology allows you to present your work in new and different ways. For example, in your research you can include audio, video, and animations. You can add spreadsheets, databases, and simulations. You can even create virtual reality worlds.


Egalitarian Benefits

The world of scholarship depends on people making their research available to others. Approximately 47,000 dissertations and 12,000 theses are archived each year at UMI. Electronic publication of these works would greatly aid graduate education by allowing the works to serve as a guide to those who are in the process of completing their work;  save others the time and cost of redoing studies that have already been done; introduce students and researchers to latest reviews of research.

Personal Benefits

Having an ETD helps build your career. Your work is published in a timely manner, visible, and easily accessible.   Timely publication makes your up-to-the-minute research instantly available. Upon publication, ETDs immediately become part of the NDLTD and are available for use by anyone having access to the Internet. Visibility allows people inside and outside of the academic arena to see and use your research. Just having an ETD can multiply the number of times your work is read. This exposure increases the possibilities that your work will be cited in others' publications, which adds to your prestige and can help your future advancement. Accessibility makes reading and using your work easy. Instead of having to request and await the arrival of a printed copy, your work immediately displays on a computer screen and can be printed on demand.  By using today's communication tools wisely, you can save time and produce a more influential work.  You can manage your information so you know where you’ve kept your notes; use powerful search tools to gather information and manage evaluations and revisions; and use interpretation tools for quantiative and qualitative documents.

Does writing an ETD have to be a big deal?

After completing the thesis or dissertation, authors can spend a few minutes saving their thesis or dissertation, so long as it's written in a word processor, in Adobe’s PDF (Portable Document Format), which then enables users to view the document with Adobe's PDF reader, which is freely available.  In fact, most ETDs are traditional dissertations written in Microsoft Word and then transferred into Adobe's PDF.  However, a graduate student's career may benefit greatly by producing a more interactive, multimedia thesis or dissertation.  By creating an online portfolio of their professional accomplishments, research goals, and sample research documents, graduate students can demonstrate to prospective employers that are literate—knowledgeable of contemporary researching, authoring, and publishing processes.


Will publishers still accept your manuscript?

Most publishers contend that theses and dissertations need to be significantly revised prior to print publication.  In the past publishers have not counted publication of theses and dissertations as a prior publication.  Usually graduate students need to make significant revisions before publishing their work with an academic press or journal.   The NDLTD has collected supportive letters from numerous publishers at In a recent survey of journal editors and publishers (see, only sixty-two percent of those surveyed indicated that manuscripts derived from print dissertations would be welcome for submission, while eighty-three percent said that an online thesis or dissertation widely available through a web-based archive would not be considered prior publication according to their journals’ existing policies; less than one percent said that an online thesis or dissertation with access limited to campus or institution would be considered prior publication.

Because ETDs are attracting broad audiences students should want to review the policies of publishers in their disciplines.  Students may wish to limit access to their work to a given university campus for the first year of its shelf life.  Traditionally, publishers have not viewed theses and dissertations as published documents even though they have been published by UMI.  In the past, UMI has sent out paper copies of the theses and dissertations on request.   Nowadays, however, users can view the first 20 pages of theses and dissertations published since 1997 (see  After the first 20 pages, users need to pay to view the complete thesis or dissertation.

Because some students do not want their work published by UMI or the NDLTD, some universities enable students to limit publication of their work to their university campuses' computer network.  At West Virginia University, for example, students are given the choice of whether or not the university forwards their ETD to UMI. 


What universities require ETDs?

Presently Virginia Tech, West Virginia University, East Tennessee State University, and the University of North Texas are the only American universities that require all students to submit theses and dissertations electronically.  MIT is in the process of digitizing all of its theses and dissertations that were written at MIT.  The University of Texas at Austin, which grants more Ph.Ds than any other American university, requires ETDs for graduation after May of 2001, and the University of Florida will require ETDs in the Fall of 2001 for graduation.  Dozens of universities have departments that require ETDs.  For example, at USF, the Department of Industrial Engineering requires ETDs for graduation.



How do universities benefit from ETDs?

The quality of a university is reflected by the quality of its students’ intellectual products.  Theses and dissertations reflect an institution’s ability to lead students and support original work.  In time, as digital libraries of ETDs become more commonplace, students and faculty will make judgments regarding the quality of a university by reviewing its digital library.  Universities that incorporate new literacy tools, such as streaming multimedia, will attract students who hope to produce innovative work.


How do faculty benefit from ETDs?

·         Each student could develop a bibliography reflecting his or her work, and a collective bibliography would emerge encompassing all of a faculty member's advisees.  

·         A student's acquired expertise will not completely leave with that student but will remain to help bootstrap new students (and new interests of the faculty member).  

·         The efforts of students working with a faculty member can be known to a wider audience.  This would provide publicity and enhanced visibility for the student and that student's lab and major professor.

·         Students who know how to use tools, such as Microsoft Word's tracking or commenting features, are better prepared for future e-publishing; they can use these tools for future collaboration and mentoring, which should save the faculty member time during the reviews and revisions.


How are other countries implementing ETDs? 

Beyond the United States, Germany, Canada, the United Kingdom, Austria, Japan, Taiwan, France, and Malaysia are the world's top users of ETDs. In Germany, where publication of dissertations is a requirement for the doctorate, five research universities and the German National Library are working collaboratively to facilitate ETDs (see These universities are advocating that graduate students either write their documents in XML or export to XML using one of their conversion tools.  In Canada he University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, York University, and the National Library of Canada are working collaboratively to streamline their digital library of ETDs. England's national ETD research is undertaken by the University Theses Online Group (see In turn, the Australian Digital Theses (ADT) Project brings together seven Australian universities: The University of New South Wales (UNSW, lead institution), Australian National University, Curtin University of Technology, Griffith University, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, and University of Sydney ( Austria also supports online ETD work. In Africa, Felix Ubogu at Rhodes University is leading the "Database of African Theses and Dissertations" (DATAD) project. (For more information about these and related initiatives, see the University of South Florida's "Third International Symposium on Electronic Theses and Dissertations" site:


What is UMI?

UMI (University Microfilms International), a subsidiary of Bell & Howell, "maintains the definitive bibliographic record for over 1.4 million doctoral dissertations and master's theses" (  For text-based dissertations and theses, UMI will make a paper copy of the electronic version and then microfilm the paper version. UMI no longer requires paper submissions of ETDs.  UMI makes the first 20 pages of dissertations that have been published since 1977 available for free.  For a price, researchers can access the full text of over 100,000 dissertations (see available in PDF.  Since January 2000, UMI has been securing ISBN numbers for all new dissertations.


What is the NDLTD?

Conceptualized in 1987 and realized in part in 1997 through efforts by Virginia Tech's Ed Fox, Gail McMillan, and John Eaton, the NDLTD (Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations) is an international consortium dedicated to improving graduate education by promoting digital libraries of electronic theses and dissertations.  Presently, over 100 research universities and professional organizations have joined the NDLTD.  Unlike UMI (University Microfilms International), which is a business that charges for ETDs, the model of the NDLTD is to provide free access to scholarship world-wide. Also, whereas UMI archives only 12,000 of the approximately 100,000 theses produced each year, the NDLTD initiative aims to handle the hundreds of thousands of theses as well as undergraduate honors theses.

            The Third International Symposium on ETDs, hosted by the University of South Florida and co-sponsored by the Council of Graduate Schools in March of 2000, was attended by 225 representatives from 13 countries and 35 U.S. States and the District of Puerto Rico (see  Next Year’s ETD Symposium 2001 is being held at Cal Tech, March 22-24, 2001.


  What is USF’s Policy on ETDs?

According to the Graduate School’s 2000 Thesis and Dissertation Handbook, students now have the option of submitting the thesis or dissertation electronically.  For detailed information on format requirements and procedures for electronic submission, refer to  In addition to the electronic copy, one paper copy of the manuscript is still required by the Final Copy Deadline.  Presently, the Handbook does not specific what students should do with multimedia files, animation, or interactive features, yet these policies are under review by the Graduate School.

In 1997 the USF Task Force on ETDs, which was composed of 14 faculty members and staff from Academic Computing and Legal Affairs recommended that USF begin requiring ETDs in the fall 97-98 academic year (see  In turn, the Library Directors in 1997 determined that it did not require or even encourage the submission of a paper dissertation or theses when an electronic version is available.  The USF Libraries is backing up all of the content received electronically both on-site and off-site.  In addition, the USF Libraries began digitizing the theses and dissertations written at USF that are most commonly requested.  The USF Libraries made arrangements to store this electronic content in a bomb/hurricane/theft proof vault.  As of November 2000, the Library's policy regarding ETDs and paper submission has not been approved by the Graduate Council and is therefore not in effect.

Although ETDs are still not required, many graduate students are in the process of developing multimedia ETDs at USF.  Recently, over 50 students submitted applications to receive ETD Road Runner awards and interested faculty and graduate students have created the Digital Media Institute (see  The Department of Industrial Engineering, under the leadership of Dr. Paul Givens, is USF's first department to require ETDs for graduation.  


How will ETDs transform graduate education?

Academics stand on a precipice separating our past, when genres of communication evolved slowly, and our future, when new genres emerge overnight. Our concepts of research, the authority of knowledge, and the shape of content are being radically challenged. We have difficulty imagining what dissertations or academic digital libraries will look like ten years from now.  The shape of a dissertation is evolving from the first six-page, handwritten thesis at Yale University in 1860 into a form we cannot yet predict. Today's researchers and scholars are challenging the conventions of linear texts, one-inch margins, and texts written for extremely narrow audiences. They are integrating video, audio, animation, and graphics into their works. They are creating interactive elements, including real-time video, pivot tables, and online writing spaces. 

The power of ETDs is rooted in access.  No longer are thesis and dissertations an academic hurdle, a last step in the arduous process of graduate education.  Instead, ETDs are a meaningful connection with significant readers.  Collaborative author tools are enable faculty to serve on dissertation committees at universities distant from their home campuses and using tools such as NetMeeting to mentor students from a distance. Rather than accepting that their research and scholarship will be read only by a select few (i.e., their committees), graduate students can now expect many readers. 

Predicting the future of academic scholarship is a little like predicting the stock market: both are volatile and unpredictable. Given this fact, however, it appears that there are a number of emerging trends that will affect our enterprise:

·         Dissertations will matter more than they have in the past. Thanks to digital libraries, which increase access from one or two readers to as many as 60,000, students and universities will pay greater attention to the quality of students' research and writing.

·         Given this increased access, both students and universities may begin to pay greater attention to the quality of scholarly writing.

·         Progressive universities will use their digital libraries of ETDs to market their programs, and universities will provide the resources students need to write multimedia research.

·         Multimedia documents will transform author-reader relations. Authors will interact synchronously with readers, create different reading paths for different readers, and use visuals, animation, and pivot tables.

·         Students will increasingly search the worldwide digital libraries of ETDs, resulting in research that is more collaborative and more current.

·         Across disciplines, students will provide links that clarify the significance, methodology, and findings of their work to a broader range of readers, including lay audiences, thereby helping the general public better understand the value of academic scholarship. As an example, students in the social sciences can incorporate video of cultures and primary subjects; they can create polyvocal case studies and ethnographies—that is, studies with alternative interpretations.

·         Faculty members will work more collaboratively with students, resulting in more complete bibliographies and saved time.

Faculty and graduate students will work more regularly with software development companies, resulting in collaborations such as the USF-Microsoft Corporation project.

What are ETDs?  |  What are digital libraries of ETDs?  |  Why bother writing an ETD or submitting it to a digital library?  | Does writing an ETD have to be a big deal?  |  Will Publishers Still Accept Your Manuscript  |  What universities are requiring ETDs?  |  How do universities benefit from ETDs?  | |  How do faculty benefit from ETDs?  |  How do faculty benefit from ETDs?  |  How are other countries implementing ETDs?  |  What is UMI? What is the NDLTD?  |  What is USF’s Policy on ETDs?  |  How will ETDs transform graduate education?


Byline: Professor Moxley ( has recently published his tenth book: Web of Danger (a novel).  Presently, he is editing an online book on ETDs, sponsored by UNESCO, which involves working with colleagues at the Australian Digital Theses Project; Humboldt-University Berlin; ISTEC: Ibero-American Science Technology Education Consortium; National Library of Portugal; VIDYANIDHI: Digital Library of Indian Electronic Theses; Virginia Tech; Universidad de Chile; Universite Lyon; Universite Montreal.