Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Oral History Guide: The Interview Process


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