Common Knowledge and Relative Authority

Applying higher level thinking to lower level writing •


A definition of scholarship I like to use is ‘scholars writing for other scholars with scholarly intent’. As for the definition of scholar, I use ‘someone who contributes directly to schooling’, i.e., a teacher or an educator.

Most of the time, suitable writing for scholarship follows conventions that publishers embrace for that purpose. That means things like using terminology appropriate for the field of scholarship and citing sources of both information and knowledge (i.e., identifying them) in the accepted fashion. Common knowledge does not require citation: All the members of the audience already know it and recognize it as common.

As an example, consider that previous paragraph. I could have found scholarly sources or even higher-level general ones to defend the points I made in each sentence, but the style of writing didn’t necessitate it. Readers can accept it as common knowledge for other targeted readers or they can trust my authority as an information specialist not to provide them.

Journalists and writers for general audiences may still cite sources, but not use the formal citation styles embraced by scholarly audiences. (On that point of formal citation styles, I favor MLA [Modern Language Association]). The writer has to know the audience and the purpose of the work to decide whether to embrace general or scholarly writing styles. The writing I do for my running audience really requires neither scholarly sources nor proper citation style, but I will use both on occasion; depending on how snooty I want to sound.

There is greater pressure to hew more closely to scholarly expectations if the audience is likely to combine those who don’t have specialized knowledge with those who do. Consider the writing you’ll find for Models of Interpretation. One model is THUD: the idea that people of all ages behave badly because they’re tired, hungry, uncomfortable, or desirous, in combinations of one or more. Like other models I’ve developed, I reference it repeatedly in conversations that include friends and colleagues who are professionals from many different disciplines. No one challenges me because they accept the basis of the model as common knowledge that is simply framed from the perspective of one particular individual. Including the model in written form for consumption by a variety of general and knowledgeable readers justifies the citing of sources a little bit more, even if the knowledge is otherwise relatively common, because readers have the time to investigate them more freely. It’s also good for people who claim to be information specialists like me to do that kind of thing, occasionally.

For THUD, as to be expected for knowledge that is common, I didn’t have to work hard to find sources. I did have to work a little harder to find ones I thought to be most suitable. I settled for two; one a research article (Williams, Pizarro, Ariely, and Weinberg) and one a blogpost for an educational audience (Banks). I could have found more research, but one was enough for my purposes and for my audience of mixed general and knowledgeable readers: my personal opinion. I could have selected a different blogpost, particularly one that wasn’t from a company selling educational services, but the writing was particularly appropriate for illustrating my model.

The writing never necessitated sources, but it never needed to; even if it was written by an information scholar for other people (including scholars) with a modicum of scholarly intent.


Page References

Banks, Andrea. “Why Do Children Misbehave? Finding the Root Causes of Classroom Misbehavior.” Insights to Behavior, 22 Apr. 2020, Accessed 3 Mar. 2023.

Williams, Elanor F., David Pizarro, Dan Ariely, and James D. Weinberg. “The Valjean Effect: Visceral States and Cheating.” Emotion, vol. 16, no. 6, 2016, pp. 897-902, Accessed 3 Mar. 2023.


Information Seeking


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