The ethical use of information while at the University of Arkansas

What It Is and How to Avoid It

UARKLIB. [video]. What is Plagiarism. (2015) University of Arkansas Libraries.
{MLA style}

What Is Common Knowledge?

"Common knowledge" -- you don't need to cite where you found "common knowledge".  But what is "common knowledge"?  Guess what -- it varies.  Here is a safe definition, because you don't want to be accused of plagiarism. 

Did you know it without looking it up?  If you are just learning about your field, you should err on the side of caution.  Better to cite something that didn't need a citation, then to be accused of plagiarism.

Would other people in the class know this?  Common knowledge is based, to some extent, on what the "general practitioner" in the field would know.  And what would be general knowledge for a practicing electrical engineer MAY NOT be common knowledge for a freshman engineering student.

Do you find the information in many PUBLISHED (not web pages) resources? Some experts say if you find it in 3 reference tools, no need to cite. Others say 5. If you don't have time to check that the information has been used in many different places, cite it.  Play it safe.  The citation can be easily removed later and until the paper is in it's final version, you will know where to go back and verify the information.

  • Example 1:  Water boils at 100 °C.  (I looked it up to make sure I was right.  Still it is common knowledge and I will not cite my source.)
  • Example 2:  The melting point of acacetin is 263 °C.  (For an organic chemist, this might be common knowledge.  For me it is not.  I would cite it for two reasons. First, I had to go find it. Second, I want to show the reader it is valid number.)
  • Example 3: Nixon resigned from the US Presidency. (Common knowledge)
  • Example 4: Nixon resigned from the US Presidency at the urging of .......  (Not so common knowledge, I would cite where I found that information.)

Self Plagiarism

This issue, at the University of Arkansas, is addressed as reusing your work from one class in another class.  Doing so without both faculty members approval is considered a level one violation of the academic honesty policy.

Most publishers do not allow redundancy or self-plagiarism.  The statements to authors specifically prohibit the reuse of previously published works.

Unintentional Plagiarism?

"Most current discussions of plagiarism fail to distinguish between:

  1. submitting someone else's text as one's own or attempting to blur the line between one's own ideas or words and those borrowed from another source, and
  2. carelessly or inadequately citing ideas and words borrowed from another source.

Such discussions confuse plagiarism with the misuse of sources." For the student: it is better to be marked down for inadequate citations than to be accused of cheating. Citing incorrectly is better than not citing at all.

University of Arkansas Libraries
365 N. McIlroy Ave.
Fayetteville, AR 72701-4002
  • Phone: 479-575-4104
  • Toll-free: 866-818-8115
  • Fax: 479-575-6656