Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Internet Explorer 11 Will No Longer Be Supported as of November 20, 2020. Read More...

Plagiarism Basics: Quotes, Paraphrases, and Common Knowledge

Quoting, Paraphrasing, Summarizing... oh my!

What are the differences among quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing?

Quoting, Paraphrasing, and Summarizing

These three ways of incorporating other writers' work into your own writing differ according to the closeness of your writing to the source writing.

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.

Summarizing involves putting the main idea(s) into your own words, including only the main point(s). Once again, it is necessary to attribute summarized ideas to the original source. Summaries are significantly shorter than the original and take a broad overview of the source material.

Source: Purdue Online Writing Lab (Owl)

Introduction to Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that is accepted and known so widely you do not need to cite it:

  • Common sayings or cliches.
    What is Common Knowledge?Curiosity killed the cat.  Ignorance is bliss. 
  • Facts that can be easily verified. As you are conducting your research on a topic, you will see the same facts repeated over and over.
    You are writing a paper on the American bicentennial, and want to state that the United States celebrated 200 years from its founding in 1776.  No one would argue about that fact! 
  • Facts that you can safely assume your readers know.
    Dogs are often used as pets or companion animals.

Not all facts are common knowledge. You will still need to cite:

  • Facts that surprise you or your reader.
    Michelangelo was shorter than average (Hughes & Elam, 2003).
  • Facts that include statistics or other numbers.
    In 2016, the estimated population of Boca Raton, Florida was 96,114 (U.S. Census, 2018).
  • Exact words from another work or person, even if its content could be considered common knowledge.
    In his 1988 State of the Union address, President Ronald Reagan said, "in the spirit of Jefferson, let us affirm that in this Chamber tonight there are no Republicans, no Democrats—just Americans. Yes, we will have our differences, but let us always remember what unites us far outweighs whatever divides us" (UVA Miller Center, 2017).
  • Knowledge or facts within a discipline.
    The number of bones in the leg could be considered common knowledge in a sports medicine course, but if this fact is used in an English paper, you cannot assume your reader would have that knowledge, so it would need to be cited.

Remember, if you have any questions about whether something is common knowledge, ask your professor for advice.

Hughes, H., & Elam, C.  (2003).  Michelangelo.  Grove Art Online.

U.S. Census Bureau (2016).  Quick facts: Boca Raton city, Florida.  Retrieved from

UVA Miller Center. (2017).  Presidental speeches:  Ronald Reagan presidency:  January 25, 1988 State of the Union address.  Retrieved from

Source: McConnell Library Avoiding Plagiarism LibGuide