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Preventing Plagiarism: Common Knowledge

A guide to avoiding plagiarism in your academic writing.

Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is 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.

​How can you tell if something is common knowledge?

Consider :

  • Can it be found in many different places?
  • Is it widely known by a lot of different people?

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.

Test Your Knowledge

What determines whether something is common knowledge?
The internet database of common knowledge.: 0 votes (0%)
Your audience: 6 votes (85.71%)
The Encyclopedia of Common Knowledge: 1 votes (14.29%)
Total Votes: 7

Test Your Knowledge

Which of these examples would be common knowledge for a general audience?
Airline travel is a hassle.: 3 votes (30%)
Destruction of the apical meristem will result in the death of clump-style grasses.: 0 votes (0%)
Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies.: 7 votes (70%)
Total Votes: 10

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.