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Avoiding Plagiarism

What is Common Knowledge?

undefinedYou may have heard people say that you do not have to cite your source when the information you include is “common knowledge.” But what does this include?

Broadly speaking, common knowledge refers to information that the average, educated reader would accept as reliable without having to look it up. This includes:

  • Information that most people know, such as that water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Information shared by a cultural or national group, such as events in the nation’s history that are remembered and/or celebrated.
  • Knowledge shared by members of a certain field, such as laws or formulas needed for a Physicist to solve problems.

However, what may be common knowledge in one culture, nation, academic discipline or peer group may not be common knowledge in another.

This is a skill that needs to be developed. Over time, you will become better at identifying common knowledge, especially within your chosen field.

Remember, if you feel like the point you are making is likely to be disputed by a number of your readers, you should provide the source information. You can also ask your instructor or a librarian for help.


The best advice is: When in doubt, cite your source.


Image via Pixabay -


Is it common knowledge?

Ask yourself...undefined

  • Who is my audience?
  • What can I assume they already know?
  • Will I be asked where I obtained my information?
  • Can I find the information in numerous sources?
  • Is it likely that many people know the information?
  • Can I find the information in a general resource, like a dictionary?

Some examples...

The following are examples of common knowledge that do not need to be cited:

  • John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas
  • Over 1 billion people live in China
  • The Nile River flows into the Mediterranean Sea

Image via Pixabay -


Academic integrity at MIT. (n.d.) Retrieved from

Charleston Southern University Library