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MICDS McCulloch Library: Common Knowledge

Research Hint

How will I know it when I see it?

  • Information readily found in 3-5 sources
  • Information that is readily known
  • Common sayings/proverbs
  • Historical dates,places, events (The Battle of Gettysburg occurred on July 1-3 1863, etc. . )

What is common knowledge?

Common knowledge is another element that will take up space in your papers. It is information that does not need to be cited because it is readily found in other sources and is well known by the general public. For example:

There is a movement in certain border states to have a wall erected a long the border with Mexico.  (Common Knowledge)

Other information that is not readily known: statistics, opinions, theories must be cited because you, as the researcher, got that information from somewhere else and must give credit:

"Opposition to the fence intensified last month after Mr. Chertoff used authority provided by Congress to waive more than two dozen environmental laws and others to push ahead with construction. Mr. Chertoff said his department needed to bypass the laws if it was to meet the goal set by Congress two years ago of completing at least 670 miles of fence by the end of this year."  (Information will need to be cited whether in direct quotation or paraphrase)

Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between what you might consider common knowledge and what is information that needs to be cited. A good rule of thumb to follow is "when in doubt, cite". However, when you are researching you will start to see information over and over again.You might not have known this information before you keep seeing it in serveral sources.  If this information is broad and provides a basic statement of fact it is probably common knowledge. If it is very specific or something that you would need to look up this is a good indication it should be cited.

Examples:

The following are examples of information that is common knowledge:

 

Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States.

 

President Trump has pushed for an overhaul on the nation's immigration policy.

 

The United States is known as a melting pot.

 

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 had a profound effect on the history of US immigration. 

 

Examples

This is information that is not considered common knowledge and would need to be followed by an in text citation:

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the country's GDP could be increased by 3.3 percent (or roughly 700 billion dollars) by the year 2023 if immigration reform becomes a reality ("Creating an Immigration System for the 21st Century")

*note that this is a paraphrase of the original text

"The term melting pot came from a 1908 play by English writer Israel Zangwill. The melodrama transposed the plot of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to New York City, with the star-crossed lovers now from Russian Jewish and Russian Cossack backgrounds ("Destination America")

The Immigration act of 1965 did away with national quotas and instead moved to hemispheric  restrictions. "This new overall limitation, which varies from year to year, was set at 290,000 in its first year, with the proviso that no more than 20,000 immigrants would be accepted from any one country. The quota later ranged from the mid-500,000s to the 600,000s during the 1980s, then rose in the early 1990s to a high of over 1,825,000 in 1992 before dropping precipitously to below its original 1977 level in the mid-1990s" (Foner 36).