Question: What is “common knowledge” vs. needs to be cited as references?
Answer: Summary: Deciding what is common knowledge vs. what needs to be cited as a reference is a tricky situation.
“…what one group considers common knowledge may not be so for another.” P. 308.
“”The heterogeneous nature of communities creates a situation whereby ‘common knowledge’ is not a stable construct but rather one in continual dynamic movement.” P. 309.
“The dynamic nature of common knowledge and the heterogeneous nature of community highlight the challenges of university students…. As novice writers, students ‘are forced into a guessing game. To cite or not to cite?” (England, 2008, p. 110). It is a difficult decision because not citing the source of a piece of special knowledge could be read as plagiarism.” P. 310.
Reasons students gave for not citing:
.Material drawn from classroom learning. “I learnt it sometime ago (in high school). There is no need to give references for information or knowledge learnt in the past.”
.Material drawn from a published source. “I did not cite the reference because it’s kind of information or fact, not an opinion.”
.Material drawn from unidentified prior reading.” I just take a whole bunch of stuff, think about it awhile and then come up with my own ideas.”
.Material drawn from classroom learning. “This is from lecture notes [handout] by the instructor. I didn’t think it warranted a citation.”
.Material drawn from published source. “That’s general information so I do not need to cite.”
.Material drawn from unidentified prior reading. “I did not indicate the source because I couldn’t remember where I read it.”
.Materials drawn from a published source. “I just kind of took it in my own words. It’s general information that I knew before.”
Comment: This article is a “keeper.” I remember reading a New Yorker article in which the author (whose name I can’t remember in a copy of the magazine the date of which I don’t know) showed that everyone in the media commits plagiarism all the time. The author said that there’s a pretty thin line between common knowledge and specialized knowledge needing to be cited. The practical effect of worrying about what needs to be cited is that no one will write anything for fear of committing plagiarism. After reading this article, I feel that way myself as I write this blog. I make a good faith effort to credit my sources, but, as in the New Yorker piece I don’t sometimes remember where I found the information. And the idea is too good not to write it. RayS.
Title: “Common Knowledge, Learning and Citation Practices in University Writing.” Ling Shi. Research in the Teaching of English (February 2011), 308-334.