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Common Knowledge

How can you tell if something is common knowledge?

Preventing Plagiarism

Consider :

Can it be found in many different places?

Is it widely known by a lot of different people?

Only information that is widely available from a variety of sources-such as historic facts and geographic data-can be used without needing to cite the information and its author. If you still aren't sure, cite your source or check with your professor.

Examples of common knowledge:

  • Dates of wars
  • Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States
  • Capitals of states and countries
  • Columbus reached America in 1492

Don't be fooled:

  • Everything on the Internet is considered common knowledge - WRONG! Unless it is common knowledge, you must cite your source whether your source is found on the Internet or in print.

  • Information found in an encyclopedia is considered common knowledge - WRONG! Encyclopedias contain lots of information, some of which is common knowledge, and some which is not.

  • Facts found in newspaper articles are considered common knowledge - WRONG! Newspaper articles of course do contain facts that are considered common knowledge, but not everything included in a newspaper article is common knowledge.

A Closer Look: Review the Scenario Below

If you were writing a research paper on the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans and you wanted to include a short history of the war and its duration, the dates of the war are considered common knowledge because you can find this information in a number of sources. However, the effects of Agent Orange are varied and written about in many journal articles, newspapers, and books; therefore, this is not considered common knowledge, and you would cite your sources.



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