Common Knowledge

How can you tell if something is common knowledge?

Consider :

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

Test Your Knowledge

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Check out these decision trees to quickly learn what to cite and when.