Confusion About What Sources Need Acknowledgment

Sometimes, you will use evidence in your argument that does not need to be acknowledged. In general, this type of evidence includes field research and common knowledge.

Field research includes surveys that you administer and observations that you make as part of your research on an issue. Since this is original research, you would not have to cite its source. YOU are the source! However, interviews with an individual are also field research, but you should acknowledge these. Interviews with individuals constitute a source of knowledge, even though you conducted the interview. Our handbook includes a citation for face-to-face, telephone, or email interviews. (Even if you exchange only one round of email correspondence with a source, that constitutes an interview. )

A good way to think about common knowledge is undisputed information that can be found in multiple sources. If you think of a fact and you wonder which of many references you could use to cite the fact, it is probably common knowledge. Common knowledge is a difficult concept because it has no clear-cut definition, and what it means to be common knowledge changes over time and from place to place. Common knowledge for your grandparents is probably not common knowledge today. Common knowledge in the United States might not be common knowledge for a student in India. It is usually safe to think of common knowledge as significant current events, birth and death dates of famous people, generalized statistics, and the like. Common knowledge does not include information that is very specific or that probably required original research. You can unintentionally plagiarize by assuming a fact is common knowledge when it is not.

Common Knowledge Exercise: Read each piece of evidence and determine whether the information is common knowledge or whether it would need acknowledgment. Discuss your answers with classmates.

1. The passenger pigeon is now extinct.

2. 47% of dogs in the United States sleep in a family member's bed.

3. Thousands of Americans have died so far in the War on Terror.

4. Domestic violence can lead to long-term health problems and difficulty in future relationships.

5. John Lennon was shot on December 8, 1980.

6. President Barack Obama has proposed an $825 billion stimulus plan.

7. Pablo Picasso, born in Spain, was a child prodigy who was recognized as such by his art-teacher father, who ably led him along.

8. Pop stars and TV celebrities have a major influence on how young girls see themselves.

Remember: If you are ever unsure if evidence should be cited, just cite it. A good rule is: when in doubt, write it out!  You will never be "wrong" when you cite something, but you will always be wrong when you plagiarize, even if accidentally.