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Developing good academic practice
Developing good academic practice

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4.2.1 Arts

You have been advised that there is no need to provide a reference [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] for a piece of factual information that is deemed to be common knowledge. However, deciding whether something is ‘common knowledge’ is not always straightforward. Indeed, it can touch on one of the most exciting aspects of academic study.

As an Arts student you will develop your ability to make judgements about statements that claim to be factual. If a piece of information like a date or a place is not in dispute you don’t need to provide a reference. But if scholars are arguing about such matters and discovering further information, or if popular opinion (common knowledge) is contrary to the latest research, you do need to provide a reference to show that you are aware of complexity as well as to avoid plagiarism.

Here are two examples. Would you describe this information as common knowledge?

Example 4

Henry VIII of England ruled from 15091547: Yes/No



Even if you didn’t know the dates of Henry VIII you would probably have no difficulty in finding them. This can, therefore, be regarded as common knowledge.


There is a difference between what you know or don’t know and what can be regarded as common knowledge. You may have to look up the dates of Henry VIII but there is no dissent about his dates and it is very easy to find them.

Example 5

Modern scholarship places the dates of Jesus of Nazareth at 4BCE29CE: Yes/No



Think about how most people would answer the question, ‘In which year was Jesus born?’ Many would know that our calendar system is based on CE ‘the common era’, BCE ‘before the common era’. Far fewer people would know that modern scholars disagree with the traditional dating and some would probably resist or question this development.


This information may be common knowledge among scholars but it is not common knowledge among non-specialists and, therefore, needs a reference.

Sometimes you may think that a particular idea is common knowledge but find, when you start to study Arts subjects more deeply, that what you had taken for granted is not as obvious as you had thought. When this happens you need to provide a reference.

Click on the media player below to listen to historian Professor Clive Emsley explaining what is regarded as ‘common knowledge’ within Arts.

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Professor Clive Emsley
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