AWP Policy on Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Just as it is important for graduate students in the sciences to protect the patent potential of their work, graduate students in creative writing need to protect the copyright potential—and specifically, first serial and book rights—of work they produce for their capstone creative projects. For this reason, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) recommends the following for situations where electronic archiving and universal access to dissertations or theses is the default:

  • We recommend that, in cooperation with campus librarians and the university's college of graduate studies, creative writing graduate students be allowed to submit paper dissertations or theses, so as to confine access to university users.
  • Where this is not an option, we recommend creative writing dissertations or theses be electronically embargoed—by password protection, abstract-only viewing, or other means—to limit access to campus client computers and to faculty and student users only. (Major vendors have such options available to their university clients.)
  • We recommend creative writing program directors work with librarians and graduate deans to make the paper- or electronic-embargo options known to students and conspicuous in all dissertation or thesis-preparation materials.
  • We also recommend that, early in the process of the students’ thesis or dissertation preparation, the library should provide mandatory instruction on the limitations of fair use and copyright for quoted materials from literature, popular music, film, TV, and other media.

The problem these recommendations address: Capstone projects in creative writing programs aim, almost in every case, to result in book-length, publishable dissertations or theses. It is not uncommon in many programs to have alumni whose capstone projects were accepted, wholly or in part, for publication by independent or commercial publishers. Without the ability to offer publishers first rights to such work, however—rights that are expended by universal dissemination of EDTs—a student has dramatically reduced prospects for getting such work published after graduate school.

Such sales of first serial rights help the work reach a wide public audience. Limiting public access now can ensure the best public access later. Protecting this potential for public distribution is in the best interest of the university as well as the writer who created the work.

— The AWP Board of Directors