How can you tell if something is common knowledge?
1) Can it be found in many different places?
2) 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 or TA.
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 and Test Your Knowledge.
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.
Test Your Knowledge
Practice what you've learned about Common Knowledge. Click your answer.
You are writing a 5 page paper about the author Harper Lee. In addition to writing about her book, you've decided to include some information about her life. Through your research you've learned that one of her childhood friends was Truman Capote, another author. Is this common knowledge?
Yes, this is common knowledge.
Incorrect. Although this is a fact in Lee's life, it is not widely known by many people and not found in many different sources.