NOTE: For simplicity, the following guidelines relate to conducting audio-only interviews
How do I start the actual interview?
Begin with a recorded introduction that follows a standard format. Here's an example:
"This interview is being conducted for the Acme School Oral History Project, sponsored by the River County Historical Society. The interviewer is Mary Jones. The narrator is Jane Smith. The interview is taking place at Mrs. Smith's farm in rural River County on November 20, 2004."
How can I ask effective questions?
Here are some tips for asking effective questions, using your question format as a guide:
- Rely on open-ended questions that require more than a one-word answer. Examples: Tell me about your high school education. How did you celebrate Christmas? Describe your first home.
- Use neutral, not leading, questions or statements. Example: "Tell me about living here" rather than " Why don't you like living here?"
- Questions that start with how, what, when, why, where, and who can introduce a new subject or follow up on an initial statement. Examples: How did you first learn that the Acme School would be closed? Tell me more about that.
- Ask only one question at a time.
- Keep your opinions to yourself.
- Listen carefully without interrupting. Oral historians are looking for details and insights, not sound bites like you might hear on television or radio.
- Use body language, eye contact and silence to encourage a narrator to keep going. Avoid repeated "uh-huh" or "I see." Such interruptions by the interviewer make it difficult to use audio excerpts from an interview in public programming.
- Ask follow-up questions to draw out details and clarify information.
- Ask only questions your narrator can answer from firsthand knowledge. Stay away from questions beyond the narrator's area of expertise.
- If a narrator uses jargon or acronyms, ask for explanations. Twenty years from now, someone reading a transcript of your interview might have a tough time understanding that verbal shorthand.
- Jot down proper names or place names the narrator mentions so you can ask for correct spellings at the end of the interview. The person who transcribes the interview will thank you.
- Keep track of the time. Oral history interviews usually don't last more than one or one and one half hours. Elderly narrators, in particular, often have limited energy, so try not to tax them unnecessarily. If you need more time, schedule another session.
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