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Avoiding Plagiarism

Avoiding Plagiarism - Common Knowledge

This is the third of seven video modules in Langara Library's Avoiding Plagiarism Tutorial. To avoid plagiarism, it's important to cite your sources. However, you don't need to cite information that is considered common knowledge. But how can you tell if something is common knowledge? In this module, Langara instructors provide guidance on how to determine common knowledge in your field.

Video Transcript:

Narrator: In the last video, we introduced the concept of common knowledge. Let's take a closer look. You don't need to cite things that are common knowledge. Common knowledge includes: opinions that are generally known and accepted or information that the average educated person would know. When you're learning a subject, everything may seem new. However, as you explore your sources, you may start to notice that some facts appear in numerous sources without citations. This often indicates that an idea is common knowledge within that field. If you're unsure if something is common knowledge, ask your instructor a librarian, or a Writing Center staff member. Here are some examples of common knowledge: Canada has two official languages, French and English. Smoking is detrimental to one's health. Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet. Now, here's some advice from a Langara instructor about how to deal with common knowledge.

English Instructor: Common knowledge is something students aren't always sure about because the say, well, it varies according to... So common knowledge would be: who wrote Shakespeare's plays? It's not the Earl of Oxford. It's really Shakespeare. Dates and times and places are usually common knowledge. You don't need to cite those things. I say to students if what you are citing is an opinion, that's not common knowledge. If it's a fact, that's okay. That if you say Virginia Woolf wrote nine novels, you don't need to cite that because that's a standard, accepted fact. If you have anything that you think people might argue with, that you cite.

Narrator: As mentioned, unintentional plagiarism is much more common than intentional plagiarism. It often occurs when students are pressed for time and fail to properly cite other's ideas, are unfamiliar with how to properly cite or integrate other's ideas into their own work, don't really understand the material at hand, fail to keep track of their research process, or have differing cultural attitudes towards textual ownership or different educational training. For example, in some cultures copying another's work is considered a form of flattery. In others, textual works are thought to belong to the community as a whole. Let's hear what Langara instructors have to say about unintentional plagiarism.

English Instructor: Often, students who are in a course they can't really cope with - its too high-level. Maybe the students aren't necessarily getting as clear instructions. It might be a lot of vocabulary to learn. The student may not be just naturally good at it. Many students are forced by their programs to take courses they might not be confident in. And then they might panic. If you are in that situation, pretty much guaranteed, if you go to your instructor and say, I haven't got it done because of these reasons... before it's due, you probably will get a hearing. Can't guarantee it, but it is so much better to take a late penalty than it is to plagiarize out of desperation. Well, I think that plagiarism is really easy to do right now because of the Internet. It's so easy to cut and paste from the Internet into a document, and it's easy to forget to cite your work. When this happens though, I gotta tell you that it stands out like a sore thumb. The style is different, the work doesn't flow. And I got to meet with the students after you see something like this and a lot of times, students will claim that this was unintentional, but it really doesn't matter, right? You gotta cite your work.

Narrator: You now know what constitutes plagiarism. In the next videos, you'll learn how to cite the sources you include in your assignments.