Common Knowledge

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Common Knowledge in Academic Papers

As you read in the WR last week, writers cite borrowed information by providing a signal phrase, page number if a printed source, url in case of a picture taken from the web, etc. One exception to this rule, however, is whenever the information is common knowledge. Common knowledge is a term applicable to any piece of information that is widely available in basic sources about the subject. In a paper about psychology, for instance, you wouldn’t need to cite that Freud is considered to be the “father of psychology” or that he developed theories about the interpretation of dreams and repression mechanisms, as these are well known, widely published facts which can be found in any basic source relating to Freud, such as Wikipedia or any other encyclopedia.

Exercise MLA 2-6 ◆ Recognizing common knowledge in MLA papers

Read each student passage and determine if the student needs to cite the source of the information

in an MLA paper. If the material does not need citation because it is common knowledge, write

“common knowledge.” If the material is not common knowledge and the student should cite the

source, write “needs citation.”

EXAMPLE

The playwright August Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes in drama. Common knowledge

[Winners of well-known prizes such as the Pulitzer Prize are common knowledge because

the information is readily available in any number of sources.]

1. Many of William Faulkner’s novels are set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional part of

Mississippi. Common knowledge

2. William Faulkner may have gotten the word Yoknapatawpha from a 1915 dictionary of the

Choctaw language. Needs citation

3. The writer and folklorist Zora Neale Hurston died in poverty in 1960. Common knowledge

4. William Shakespeare was the only playwright of his generation known to have a long-standing

relationship with a single theater company. Common knowledge

5. Walt...
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