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The Information Honor Code

This is the CampusGuide for the GCC Library's Information Ethics Zoom workshop and is in the development stage.

Ways to Use Information

Most sources in your academic work should be attributed and cited.

Attribution is when you give credit to whoever created the information. Some examples include in-text or parenthetical citations or using an attribution phrase such as "they said" or "they wrote" before or after the information that you are quoting, paraphrasing, summarizing, or copying (such as an image) into your work.

Citation is a type of attribution that lists a source's information including who the author is or authors are, when the work was created, where the work was published or shared, and any other information necessary according to whatever style, such as MLA or APA, that you are using.

Examples of MLA 9th edition attribution and citation from GCC Library's MLA Style for Works Cited, 9th Edition: A Brief Guide:

Attribution or in-text citation: (author's last name and page number) = (Morrow 22)

Citation for works cited listExample of a book citation in MLA 9th edition

But did you know that sometimes you don't have to cite a source? Or that you can even modify some sources without permission? Here, we address the different ways to use sources and identify those that can be used without citations. Some of the ways include:

  • Common knowledge
  • Sources that have fallen out of copyright (but only for creative works, not academic papers and projects)
  • Creative Commons Licensing (depending on the type of license)

Don't forget to ask your instructor or a librarian if you're not sure whether or not you need to cite a source.

When you do your research, you may find information that seems like something many people already know about. Or, they're facts that you've seen in many different sources. Should you cite it, or can you use the information without adding a citation?

While the definition of common knowledge varies depending on the source and discipline, it is something you may end up using in your paper or project. Here are some definitions that clarify what it is and how to apply it to your own work. If you're still uncertain, you can discuss this with a librarian or your instructor.

Common Knowledge according to Merriam Webster: something that many or most people know

Common Knowledge according to Purdue Owl: information that someone finds undocumented in at least five credible sources. 

These websites from The Purdue OWL, Yale, and MIT, explore the topic of common knowledge further and give examples of what is considered common knowledge in different disciplines:

These facts might be considered common knowledge and would not have to be cited in a paper or project:

Earth is the third planet in our Solar System.

A comma is a punctuation mark.

Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States.

Common knowledge is also specific to the discipline or subject of the class you are taking:

For an English class: Certain quotes from very famous writers or definitions of terms such as "iambic pentameter."

For a STEM class: No need to cite formulas or theorems.

Think about some examples of common knowledge that you've encountered in your research and then answer these questions in the chat:

  1. Have you ever used information that would be considered common knowledge in a research project?
  2. How did you evaluate whether or not it was common knowledge?

Understanding Copyright and the Public Domain

When a copyright on a work expires, or falls out of copyright, it enters the public domain. This means that intellectual property laws no longer protect the item. However, citing these sources in your research project is always a good idea to avoid ethical issues such as plagiarism.

These lists, from the American Writers Museum and Book Riot, explore what creative works entered the public domain on January 1, 2023. Are you familiar with any of these creative works?

  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
  • Hardy Boys books 1-3 by Frank Dixon
  • To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  • Modern Chess Openings by Richard Clevin Griffith and John Herbet White

How long a creative work or other intellectual property remains protected by copyright law depends on when it was created and other factors. You can find out more about this from the U.S. Copyright Office, which states, "As a general rule, for works created after January 1, 1978, copyright protection lasts for the life of the author plus an additional 70 years," but "for works first published prior to 1978, the term will vary depending on several factors."


Creative Commons

Creative Commons (cc) is one of the easiest ways to share, use, and remix sources as long as you give the source attribution. There are different levels of CC licenses, ranging from the most restrictive to the least restrictive, allowing you to use an image without citing the source. Here are some examples of different CC licenses from their website:

CC BY-ND license and restrictions

CC BY license and information

CC0 license and information for public domain cc use


Now, it's your turn to search for an image using the Creative Commons search tool, Openverse. Please take a few minutes to find an image and then fill out the form below. 

Why We Don't Use Google Images

There are many reason why we don't suggest that students use Google images for their academic projects. We've listed a few reasons why we suggest you skip Google images and use a database or Creative Commons to find your images instead:

  • Google image search only allows you to see a thumbnail image.

  • The link to the image redirects you to a website where you have to pay to use the image.

  • The image is watermarked or has other copyright limitations.

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