Use the following links (generally, in this order) to search for available dissertations and masters theses (full text online, in our collections, for purchase in print or available for Interlibrary Loan).
ProQuest Dissertations and Theses — Full text is the world's most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses. The official digital dissertations archive for the Library of Congress and the database of record for graduate research. PQDT — Full Text includes 2.7 million searchable citations to dissertation and theses from around the world from 1861 to the present day together with 1.2 million full text dissertations that are available for download in PDF format. Over 2.1 million titles are available for purchase as printed copies. The database offers full text for most of the dissertations added since 1997 and strong retrospective full text coverage for older graduate works.
US & Canadian theses
Since about 2000, many US & Canadian universities have required current dissertations to be submitted electronically, though a few degree candidates may still submit in print format (generally, those who entered their program prior to the creation of new requirements at their particular institution). Some authors may also restrict external access for a limited time, for example if patent or privacy issues are a concern. At UF, we're retrospectively digitizing print dissertations, but copyright requires we secure author permission (see the UF Electronic Theses and Dissertations and the Finding Dissertations & Theses pages for further information).
First, check the Library catalog to see if we have the title of interest in our collection. Next, for US and many Canadian universities, ProQuest maintains an archive and database of all dissertations and "selected" masters theses for sale to libraries and directly to users. From a practical standpoint for acquisition and access, this is generally treated as a form of publication. For years several institutions didn't participate in this system, so older titles at a very few institutions (Harvard University, MIT and the University of Chicago) may be harder to acquire. UF faculty, staff and students may download full text of over 600,000 theses from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses: Full Text. Full text is available for approximately one third of the theses indexed in the database.
Check WorldCat Dissertations if you don't find the title of interest in ProQuest (includes better Masters thesis coverage). The Library and Archives Canada collection provides access to about 300,000 Canadian university theses and dissertations on microform via the Theses Canada Portal. Of these, approximately 50,000 are also available electronically.
Foreign institutions (outside of the US & Canada)
The Center for Research Libraries maintains a large archive of dissertations produced outside of the US & Canada, but it is not comprehensive. Some of the problems CRL staff encounter in collecting them are instructive to scholars as well: see Slagle's "Acquiring Dissertations at CRL." As a member institution, University of Florida users may borrow CRL materials free of charge via Interlibrary Loan (check with your home institution if your affiliation is not with UF). Many factors influence the availabililty (and, regrettably, the unavailability) of dissertations produced outside of North America.
British & Irish dissertations
The Electronic Theses Online System (EThOS) offers free access to the full text of many UK theses (not all UK institutions--Oxford and Cambridge, for example--participate, but may join in the future). "EThOS has been created to offer a single point of access to UK-generated post-doctoral theses and plays a significant role in showcasing UK research to the world. We now have 105 UK universities involved in the project and a total of 263,049 theses available, with almost 17,500 available for immediate download." The British Library no longer arranges interlibrary loans for UK PhD theses. Additional information available at the Document Supply Services help page. Also check the Index to Theses a comprehensive listing of theses with abstracts accepted for higher degrees by universities in Great Britain and Ireland since 1716. Oxford's Imaging Services is the primary provider of photographic prints, paper prints from microfilm and digital files within Oxford University Library Services.
For US users at CRL member institutions (including UF), "CRL will review all ILL requests made for loan or demand purchase of UK theses. If CRL finds the title is accessible through EThOS or can be digitized by them free of charge, CRL will notify the requesting institution of its availability via this venue. If EThOS requires a fee for digitization of the requested thesis, CRL will place the order on behalf of the requesting institution and make payment for digitization. The current fulfillment time is approximately 30 days." See CRL's page British Dissertations Access.
For French dissertations, «Système Universitaire de Documentation» (Sudoc) is a collective catalog created by higher education research libraries and resource centers. Among other formats and resources, Sudoc includes in its mission to list all dissertations/theses produced in France. A search guide (French language only) is available in pdf format.
If you haven't found the title of interest in these sources, you may wish to search the degree-granting institution's library catalog for circulating print copies. There may be a national index in print or online, so check for country specific resources.
Other resources may also offer theses online. For example, France's IRD (formerly ORSTOM) now offers several sets of African theses and dissertations on their site:
These (and other IRD collections including technical and government documents) are accessible in pdf via keyword, author, title, etc.
Universities maintain one official copy as an archival record of the institution; generally these can't be loaned via ILL or charged out. A circulating copy may be available, but these can be stolen, lost or damaged, etc. When they go missing, they're usually not replaced. Unfortunately, not every dissertation or thesis can always be delivered to your door (or not, in some cases, quickly enough for your needs). In some cases, access to these specialized resources may require you to arrange research travel to the institutional archive. Fortunately, this is not often a problem and, in general, access is improving worldwide as electronic publication becomes the norm.
Institutions may maintain a copy of dissertations to be consulted only in departmental or college libraries, rather than the institutional library. The same is often true of master's theses at US institutions. Sometimes these are treated as manuscripts, so they can only be copied with the authors (or the author's heirs' permission). In the worst case, the only way to access some exceptionally difficult theses and dissertations is to travel to the originating institution and sign permission forms yourself. See: Rutledge, John B. 1994. "European dissertations: Production, access, and use." Collection management 19(1/2):43-67 for further information.
Feel free to contact your library disciplinary specialist if you need assistance or have any further questions.
Please let me know if you are aware of additional country specific resources that can be linked here.
Includes items from 1956-2009, but author/keyword/department indexes only available to 2000, with annual supplements 2001-2009.