If you’re quoting or referring to statistics in your academic papers, the short and simple answer is, yes, of course, you should always cite your sources. This will allow your reader—usually your lecturer—to check the statistic for themselves with a clear point of reference for reviewing the relevant study in more detail if they wish.
But What If It’s Common Knowledge?
Even if you’re referring to something that’s often quoted and could be considered common knowledge—for example, that 50% of marriages end in divorce, or that 80% of businesses fail in their first year—you should still back this up by quoting a study from a reputable source. You might even find that your “common knowledge” statistic isn’t as reliable as you originally thought.
Assuming that you’ve found a reliable source for the statistic that you’re quoting or referring to, you now need to create a citation to point to that source. How you do this will depend on the citation format that you’re required to use and the actual source type of the statistic. Once you know whether you’re expected to cite your sources in MLA or APA style, citing a statistic is essentially no different from citing anything else from that particular type of source.
For example, if you took the statistic from a website, you cite it as you would any other website. The same goes for statistics found in books, journals, magazines, or databases—simply follow the usual citation method for each source.
Here is an example of a statistic found online and cited in MLA style (9th Edition)
Author’s last name, First name. “Title of Document/Webpage: Subtitle.” Title of Website, Publisher/Affiliated organization, Date published, URL.
More females than males attended college/university in the US in 2017.
Full Citation in Works Cited List
“Table 105.20: Enrollment in Elementary, Secondary, and Degree-Granting Postsecondary Institutions, by Level and Control of Institution, Enrollment Level, and Attendance Status and Sex of Student: Selected Years, Fall 1990 through Fall 2026.” Digest of Education Statistics, National Center for Education Statistics, February 2017, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_105.20.asp?current=yes.
Note the above example does not have author information available, so the citation starts with the title of the document. Also, the citation provides information for an individual data table on a webpage, rather than simply the webpage itself.
An in-text citation in MLA is a parenthetical citation. The standard format for this citation is:
(Author, page number)
Creating an in-text citation for a webpage can be tricky due to the absence of page numbers (and, in this case, the absence of an author). The advice for MLA format is to include the first item of your full citation, whatever that may be. This will enable the reader to easily identify the full citation, which is, of course, the point of an in-text citation. You can condense the item if necessary.
So, for the above example, the in-text citation would be:
Generally, the more information you can give on a resource the better—so if it’s available, include it. However, it’s understood that sometimes you might have to leave some components out. If you follow the format as instructed by your lecturer and include enough information to enable them to find your sources, your citation should be correct.
Remember! Don’t rely on “common knowledge” to cite statistics. Your lecturer will want to see firm sources to validate those statistics. Citation Machine can help with quick citation creation, making it easy to back up those statistics with properly referenced sources. There are thousands of styles including the Chicago Manual of Style and many others.
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