Answered By: Emily Stenberg
Last Updated: May 31, 2016     Views: 311

An embargo is a restriction set on a work, typically to allow limited access to a work prior to wider dissemination. With reference to a thesis or dissertation, it similarly means limited access for a period, depending on a variety of considerations, followed by wider access thereafter. It does not mean no one will have access to the material at all. Theses and dissertations under embargo held by the Washington University Libraries may be viewed by a patron under controlled conditions that parallel conditions of print submission: they can only be read in a library reading room, and cannot be electronically copied.

One of the primary reasons to consider an embargo is the inclusion of material in the dissertation to which the author is not the (or sole) rights-holder. This might mean photographs taken by a third party for which publication rights have not been obtained. Similarly, if the work is based on collaborative work (i.e. in the sciences) the degree candidate must have permission from project P.I.s, faculty advisors or anyone with a claim to that intellectual property, to submit the work for publication. The ProQuest form for dissertations requires the degree candidate to warrant that all material in the work is the intellectual property of the author, or if not, permissions for that material have been obtained.

While physical deposit in library stacks or electronic deposit into an institutional repository is a form of publication, it is understood that theses and dissertations are typically transitional works. While limited publication of some form is necessary to meet conditions for the degree, authors may want to limit access to the content while a revised (or extended) version is prepared especially for authors intending to seek publication later through more traditional means. 

Many degree candidates consider embargoes specifically because they have heard that publishers will not consider publication of a book if it is based on a dissertation that is available in an online institutional repository. It is true that this is the case for some publishers in some disciplines, but it is not universally true. There are pros and cons to making your work immediately available with open access. The University does not make recommendations on this decision. Please consult your department and research the options for your field.

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