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When referencing isn't needed


When referencing isn't needed

You know that you need to provide the source of ideas and language that are not your own, but what about facts and general knowledge? Does this information ‘belong’ to someone who should be referenced? Read on to understand when citations are and are not necessary.

Knowing when to provide a reference can take some practice. In general, you will always include citations for work or ideas that are not your own. There are a couple of key exceptions, however.

General knowledge

As a guideline, you do not need to reference statements that are general knowledge, which are things that most people would know.

Australia is between the Pacific Ocean to the east, and the Indian Ocean to the west. This statement does not need a reference, particularly when writing in Australia.
The Pacific Ocean has a bigger surface area than all the land on earth combined (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2022). This statement needs a reference, as it is not something that most people would know. Here a citation is provided in APA format and the full details appear in the reference list at the bottom of the page.

Historical overview

Broad statements of historical overview also do not need to be referenced. A statement such as 'There were two world wars in the twentieth century’ does not require a cited source.

Your own ideas

You do not need to cite your own ideas, unless you have already used them in a previous assignment. If your ideas have been included in your prior work, check with your instructor to ensure that self-citation is permitted in your course.

The following diagram can help you decide whether you need a reference. If in doubt, cite it. You will not be penalised for including a citation, and if you are citing too much, your instructor will let you know.

Flowchart titled 'Should I cite it?'

Should I cite it?

Is it your idea, words or image?

Yes – have you used it in previously submitted work? If you have used it in previously submitted work, you need to cite yourself—check with your lecturer if this is allowed on your course. If you have not used it in previously submitted work, you don't need to cite it.

If it is not your idea, word or image, is it common or historical knowledge?

Yes – you don't need to cite it.

No – you need to cite it.


Bardach, J.E., Cotter, C.H., & Morgan, J.R. (2022). Pacific Ocean. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Please note: The examples on this page use the APA referencing style. Please check your course handbook or speak to your instructor about the referencing style required in your area of study.