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Compare First and Secondhand Accounts

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Basics on the topic Compare First and Secondhand Accounts

Do you want to know the difference between firsthand and secondhand accounts? Learn about firsthand and secondhand accounts through our video and exercises!

First-Hand-Accounts and Secondhand-Accounts

An account is a description of an event. When researching about real events, we read firsthand and secondhand accounts.

A firsthand account (or first-hand-account) is a description of an event by someone who witnessed or experienced it. This description includes opinions, thoughts and feelings about the event. Some examples of firsthand accounts are diaries, journals, interviews, speeches, photos, or letters.

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A secondhand account (or secondhand-account) is a description of an event based on research. It is written by someone who did not witness or experience the event. Secondhand accounts usually include knowledge from several sources and provide key facts and information. Examples of secondhand accounts are textbooks, biographies, and some articles.

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When writing a text about an event, we need to conduct a thorough research and use both firsthand and secondhand accounts. This will help us to have a deeper understanding of the event.

Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts – Examples

When we read both firsthand and secondhand accounts, we need to compare the information from both sources. First, let’s read a part of the article about Dr. Hannah Frost who discovered a new species of fish.

In February 2001, Dr. Hannah Frost, a scientist at the Arctic research station, made a significant discovery while studying marine life of the Arctic Ocean. She identified a new species of fish, which was named “Glowing Frostfish” because of its ability to glow in the darkness.

Dr. Frost’s discovery made a big impact on the study of Arctic sea life. To celebrate her contribution, the Association of Arctic Biologists presented her with the National Biology Award. To present her discovery and discuss its importance, Dr. Frost will speak at the Arctic Conference in North Carolina this October.

Now let’s read a diary entry written by Dr. Hannah Frost the day she discovered a new species:

Dear diary,

Today is the day I will remember for the rest of my life. When I was on a usual boat patrol with my team from the Arctic research station, I noticed a strange glow in the water. Some of my colleagues weren’t sure whether we should identify the source of the glow, but I managed to convince my team to study it further. It turned out to be a previously unknown species of fish that has a unique ability to glow in the ocean darkness. We decided to name it the “Glowing Frostfish”.

What happened next was beyond my expectations. I had sent my findings to my colleague in the USA, and he told me that I might be nominated for the most important prize in the field of biology – the National Biology Award! I feel so honored and overwhelmed because not many scientists get to make discoveries that have a significant impact on the study of marine life in the Arctic.

Now, let’s compare the firsthand (diary entry) and the secondhand (article) accounts using a comparison chart:

Article Both Diary Entry
February 2001

Dr. Hannah Frost

will speak at the Arctic Conference in North Carolina in October
was working at the Arctic research station

discovered a new species of fish named “Glowing Frostfish”

made a big impact on the study of Arctic sea life

nominated for and awarded the National Biology award
some colleagues weren’t sure about studying the fish

feels honored and overwhelmed

As you can see from the example above, consulting both secondhand and firsthand accounts helps us to deeper understand the event and get both general and personal perspective.

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Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts – Summary

There are two types of accounts that we need to research to have a better understanding of real events.

A firsthand account is a description of an event by someone who witnessed or experienced it. A secondhand account in a description of an event by someone who did not experience it, but researched about it.

Use this table to see the differences between firsthand and secondhand accounts:

Firsthand Accounts Secondhand Accounts
Explanation A description of an event by someone
who witnessed or experienced it.
A description of an event based on
research written by someone who did
not witness or experience the event.
Includes Opinions, thoughts and
feelings about the event.
Knowledge from several sources and
provide key facts and information.
Examples Diaries, journals, interviews,
speeches, photos, or letters.
Textbooks, biographies,
and some articles.

When conducting research, it is best to use both firsthand and secondhand accounts to ensure a deeper understanding of the event.

Now you know everything about firsthand and secondhand accounts and can compare them. For more practice, watch our video and try out the exercises!

Frequently Asked Questions about Firsthand and Secondhand Accounts

What is a firsthand account?
What is a secondhand account?
Why are first-hand accounts important?

Transcript Compare First and Secondhand Accounts

“That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” ... “Pearl, WHO are these ast-ro-nauts?” “Let’s do some research and find out!” "Compare First and Secondhand Accounts" An account is a description of an event. We learn about real events by reading FIRSTHAND and SECONDHAND accounts. A firsthand account is a description of an event from someone who experienced it. These accounts include opinions,... thoughts, and feelings about what happened. What are some examples of firsthand accounts? Examples of firsthand accounts are diaries, journals, interviews, speeches, photos, or letters. A secondhand account is a description of an event based on research and written by someone who did NOT experience the event. Secondhand accounts include information from several sources and give key facts and information. What are some examples of secondhand accounts? Textbooks, biographies, and some articles are examples. When researching, we read BOTH types of accounts to have a deeper understanding of the event. Otis and Pearl found two accounts of the Moon Landing. They will read each and then compare the information. Here is part of an INTERVIEW with the astronauts, Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong; let's see what it says. Aldrin: We had some difficulty at first getting the pole of the flag to remain in the surface. At the same time, there was not much of a support force on either side, so we had to lean the flag back slightly in order for it to maintain this position. So many people have done so much to give us this opportunity to place this American flag on the surface. To me it was one of the prouder moments of my life, to be able to stand there and quickly salute the flag. Armstrong: The rest of the activity seemed to be very rushed. There were a lot of things to do, and we had a hard time getting them finished. "These astronauts did something VERY important!" "Here's more about them in this ARTICLE." In 1961, President John F. Kennedy challenged Nasa to have a human on the moon within the next ten years. On July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins boarded Apollo Eleven, departed from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and headed to the moon. Once in orbit, Collins controlled the command module, Columbia. Armstrong and Aldrin boarded the lunar module, Eagle, and descended to the moon’s surface. They chose to land in an area of the moon called the Sea of Tranquility because it was a smooth area that looked safe to land on. On July 20, 1969, Armstrong stepped onto the moon, and said those famous words, ”That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Aldrin joined him and read a plaque that said “ came in peace for all mankind.” Then the two men planted an American flag. They also collected forty-seven pounds of moon rock and dust to bring back to Earth. The Apollo Eleven crew returned to Earth on July 24, 1969. Over the next few years, ten other astronauts would travel to the moon. The last moon mission was in 1972. Now, let's compare the accounts using a comparison chart. We will record what we learned in the firsthand account HERE. What we learned in the secondhand account HERE… and the information they have in common in the middle. What are some things we learned from the interview of the astronauts? They had difficulty planting the flag in the ground. They felt proud of their accomplishment. They felt rushed to get all of their tasks done. What do we learn about the moon landing from the article? The dates of the event. The name of the spaceflight, Apollo Eleven. There were THREE astronauts on the mission. They collected forty-seven pounds of rock and dust. What information was included in BOTH accounts? Men landed on the moon. They planted an American flag. Names of some of the astronauts. There are more facts in these accounts than we recorded. Share more FIRSTHAND and SECONDHAND facts in the comments! Remember... To have a deeper understanding of real events, we read firsthand AND secondhand accounts. A firsthand account is the description of an event by someone who experienced it. A secondhand account is the description of an event by someone who DID NOT experience it. “That's one small step ..."