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Using Evidence: Common Knowledge & Personal Experience

Common Knowledge & Personal Experience

Scholarly writing primarily relies on academic research as evidence. However, all writers bring previous knowledge to their writing, and Walden writers in particular might have years of experience in their field that they bring to their classroom writing. How to incorporate common knowledge and professional experience can cause confusion, since incorporating them inappropriately can create unintentional plagiarism.

Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information or ideas that are widely known, accepted, and found in multiple places. Common knowledge is context dependent, meaning that something might be common knowledge to one audience but not another audience. If you are paraphrasing common knowledge, you do not need to cite that statement.

Let us look at a few statements and consider their context to see when they might be considered common knowledge:

Statement

Context

Common Knowledge?

The world is round.

This statement is widely known in most contexts.

This statement is usually common knowledge

President Barack Obama was a senator from Illinois.

This statement is widely known in many contexts, particularly in the United States.

This statement is usually common knowledge within the United States, but it may not be in other contexts.

Frequent nurse handwashing reduces the spread of infection in hospitals.

This statement could be widely known in the nursing field, but may not be familiar to an audience outside of healthcare.

This statement could be common knowledge, depending on the context.

Alcohol-based sanitizer kills many but not all bacteria and germs, although it is still preferred over soap and water in hospitals (CDC, 2017).

This statement is most likely not widely known in most contexts.

This statement usually would not be common knowledge and would require a citation.

 

Always consider your context and the audience you are writing for when determining whether a statement is common knowledge. Accidentally including a statement without a citation because you think it might be common knowledge can result in unintentional plagiarism. Ask your faculty if you are not sure, as your faculty can help guide you on what your audience is for an assignment and whether a statement is common knowledge for that audience.

Professional Experience

Many Walden students come with years of experience in their field, and you may find yourself writing about and researching topics you have engaged with in the past. The passion for and experience with the topics you are studying is one great advantage Walden students have.

Professional experience can cause a problem when students rely too heavily on their experience with a topic in their scholarly writing. Scholarly writing is meant to be informed by and supported by academic research, and so professional experience should not be the primary evidence you use for your ideas in your scholarly writing.

In fact, relying on professional experience too much or not clarifying when you are using professional experience in your scholarly writing can lead to questions about plagiarism. If you are writing a paper about handwashing practices for nurses, and throughout your paper you do not cite any sources, your faculty my interpret this lack of citations as passive plagiarism: Your faculty may think that you’re using evidence from sources but you just didn’t cite those sources. Although you know these ideas are based on your professional experience, your faculty may not, leading to confusion and possible misunderstandings.

We know that how and when to incorporate professional experience can be confusing if you are new to academic writing, and often students do not realize their approach could cause confusion. To avoid these issues and possible misunderstandings around plagiarism, we recommend three strategies:

  1. Use and Cite Evidence: Ensure you are adequately supporting your scholarly writing with academic evidence that is cited.
  2. Contextualize Professional Experience: If you do use professional experience to support your ideas, make it clear from context that you are doing so. Use phrasing like, “In my experience as a teacher…” or “I have found in my 10 years at my organization…”. These signal phrases help the reader know that the ideas that follow are based on your professional experience.
  3. Contact Your Faculty: Contact your faculty if you are not sure if professional experience is appropriate to use in your assignment or how to do so. Professional experience is more appropriate in some assignments more than others (e.g., a reflection paper versus a literature review). Your faculty can best guide you on how and when to include professional experience.