4. Common Knowledge

Abraham Lincoln

Not all ideas require attribution, specifically, facts that are common knowledge. Common knowledge exists when a fact can be found in numerous places or is likely to be known by a lot of people. For example, you do not need to document the fact that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States since this information is widely known. On the other hand, you must credit your source for facts that are not generally known or ideas that interpret facts. For example, that Lincoln’s tall and gangly stature is consistent with symptoms of Marfan syndrome (Davidson, 2004).Abe Marfan Syndrome

Information from reference sources such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, etc. often do not need to be cited. This is because the purpose of reference sources is usually to collect together common knowledge on a subject. However, not citing reference sources is at best a loose rule of thumb. Whether a reference source needs to be cited depends more on the nature of the information than the type of source. It also depends on the student’s reason for citing the information.

One reason for citing a source is if you wish to establish authority for the information. For example, citing the Merriam Webster Medical Dictionary as your source for the information that abnormal elongation of the long bones is a primary characteristic of Marfan’s syndrome shows that your information is from a respected authority on medical conditionsHowever, if you are merely trying to inform your reader of something that is common knowledge in a field, then it is not necessary to cite the source. For example, if you are in the nursing program, it may be the case that most students are already aware that one of the main characteristics of Marfan’s syndrome is abnormal elongation of the long bones.

 

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Davidson, Glen W. (2004). Abraham Lincoln and the DNA controversy. Retrieved August 7, 2012, from http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jala/17.1/davidson.html
Merriam Webster’s Medical Dictionary. (2012). Retrieved from http://medical.merriam-webster.com/medical/marfan


Last updated 8/23/2012 by Sue Thompson
contact: sthompsn@csusm.edu