In this lesson you will learn to distinguish between first and secondhand accounts. You will learn how to compare first and secondhand accounts when reading to gain information.
Think of a diary or a journal. If you've ever written in one yourself, you were writing from your own viewpoint. Can you think of how it is different from a newspaper article? In newspapers, reporters write about things that have happened but most of the time they weren't there themselves.
Diaries are an example of a firsthand account and newspaper articles are an example of a secondhand account. Let's look at both more closely.
Firsthand accounts, or first-person accounts, are told by a person that was a part of the action. These accounts will include the person's feelings and opinions about the topic. When writing, the author will use words like 'I' and 'we' to show that they were there and that what they are saying is their experience. Like journals, interviews and autobiographies are also examples of firsthand accounts. Take this example:
'When I walked into the zoo, the first thing I noticed was the smell. I looked to my left and realized it was coming from the flamingo exhibit. It smelled so bad, my stomach started turning so I went looking for my favorite animal: the komodo dragon. The exhibit was closed so I explored the rest of the zoo and saw pandas, lions, otters, and several different kinds of monkeys.'
In this firsthand account, the author gives you facts about the zoo by telling you what kind of animals are housed there. However, you're also given the author's opinions and experience. This mix of facts and opinions and the use of the word 'I' indicate that this is a first-person account.
Now, in secondhand accounts, or second-person accounts, authors are not a part of the action. They will use words like 'you,' 'he,' 'she,' and 'they.' Because the writer was not a part of the experience, you are less likely to find the author's feelings and opinions expressed in the text. Like newspaper articles, textbooks and encyclopedias are sources for secondhand accounts. Take this example:
'As you enter the zoo, the first thing you will notice are the colorful flamingos lounging in their pond. While the komodo dragon exhibit is closed, please visit other parts of the zoo. As move you move along the trails, you will notice that the animal exhibits are made to closely resemble natural habitats. The pandas can be found on the east side of the visitor's center, while the lions, tigers, and monkeys are all located to the west.'
In this piece, there are no opinions. The author has simply told you, the reader, what to expect during a visit and where animals may be found. Since the author has given only facts and has used the word 'you,' as a reader you should recognize that this was a secondhand account.
Similarities & Differences
Let's compare our two zoo accounts and look at what is similar and different between the firsthand account and the secondhand account.
- Both are about a zoo.
- Both describe what you should expect to see at the zoo.
- The firsthand account details the writer's experience, like the smell and their tummy turning, and their opinion, like their favorite animal.
- The secondhand account gives facts about the zoo and tells you where the animals can be found.
A firsthand account is written by someone who experienced the event and may include opinions. A secondhand account is written by someone with knowledge of an event or topic but who did not experience it. A firsthand account uses words like 'I' and 'we,' while a secondhand account uses 'you,' 'he,' and 'they.'