HOW TO CONDUCT AN ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW

By Janet Sims-Wood, Ph.D.

 

VARIETIES OF ORAL HISTORY PROJECTS:

Biographies
Family Histories
Community Studies
Classroom Teaching

TIPS FOR THE INTERVIEWER:

  1. Learn as much as you can about the interviewee before the taping session.
  2. Prepare an outline of questions to ask the interviewee.
    Check tape recording equipment before going to the interview and check it again just before the interview session begins.
  3. Keep notes of names, places, events, and dates.
  4. Listen carefully to the interviewee:
    1. Follow leads in the conversation.
    2. Know when to let the interviewee get off the subject and talk about something else. Interviewee may want to further discuss the topic, tell a story, or name people who were also important to the topic.
    3. Gently lead the interviewee back to the topics you need to cover. After the interviewee tells his/her story, you may need to restate your original topic and lead into the next question.
    4. Know when to move on to the next question. When the new lead has been fully discussed, get back to the questions on your list.

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November 1999