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Oral History Guide: The Interview Process

Guides

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress - Interviewing Tips

 

Veteran's History Project (Library of Congress) - Conduct the Interview

 

StoryCorps - Best Practices for Conducting an Interview (video)

 

The Southern Oral History Program - 10 Tips for Interviewers

 

UCLA Center for Oral History Research - Interviewing Guidelines

Quick Tips for Interviewing

Setting Up

  • Go over the process again with your interviewee and answer any questions they may have. Make sure they are comfortable.
  • Make sure to have your release form signed, if this has not been done already.
  • Test your recording equipment before you start to ensure that it is working and the audio can be heard clearly.

During the Interview

  • Begin with an introduction including your name, the date, the interviewee's name, the location, and what will be discussed.
  • Confirm with the interviewee when you start and stop the recording equipment. Never record secretly or without their knowledge.
  • Don't turn off the recording at any time, unless the interviewee specifically asks you to.
  • Ask one question at a time, and keep them short and simple (no multi-part questions that may be confusing).
  • Ask follow-up and clarifying questions when appropriate.
  • Be patient when interviewees answer questions. They will need time to think and respond.
  • Treat the interview like a normal conversation: make eye contact, don't interrupt, and be courteous of the interviewee's time by not keeping them longer than they can stay.
  • Unlike a normal conversation, you should avoid inserting your own opinion or talking too much. Use nonverbal cues to indicate that you are listening.
  • Above all, be yourself and allow the interviewee the opportunity to be themselves, too. The interview should flow naturally.

Wrapping Up

  • Thank the interviewee for their time, and make sure you have their contact information if you need to follow up.
  • If you haven't already, explain what the next steps in the process are (transcription, presentation, etc.). Let them know if and where it will be publicly accessible.
  • Ensure that the recording has saved correctly, and save it to multiple settings (like Google Drive) to avoid losing it.
  • Write field notes for yourself, such as:
    • Reflections, comments, or opinions on the interview
    • Key themes and points
    • The overall dynamic of the interview (Was it comfortable? Tense?)
    • Any memorable or unexpected moments
    • Any questions you still have and will want to follow up on