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Oral History: Summary List

Oral History Reminder List

  1. Decide your research goals and determine if oral history will help you reach them.
  2. Conduct preliminary research using non-oral sources.
  3. Define your population sample. How will you select the people you will interview? Contact potential interviewees, explain your project, and ask for help.
  4. Assemble your equipment to fit your purposes. Research and choose the kind of recording that you need to produce and then choose your equipment. For example, does it need to be broadcast quality? Does it need a long life? What can you afford?
  5. Use an external microphone for better sound quality. This also applies to video.
  6. Test your equipment beforehand and get to know how it works under various conditions. Practice using your equipment before you go to the real interview.
  7. Compile a list of topics or questions.
  8. Practice interviewing.
  9. Make a personalized checklist of things you must remember to do before, during, and after the interview.
  10. Verify your appointment a day or two before the interview.
  11. On the day of the interview, give yourself extra time to get there.
  12. Interview and record in a quiet place. When setting up, listen for a moment.
  13. Make sure the interviewee understands the purpose of the interview and how you intend to use it. This is not a private conversation.
  14. Start each recording with a statement of who, what, when, and where you are interviewing.
  15. Listen actively and intently.
  16. Speak one at a time.
  17. Allow silence. Give the interviewee time to think. Silence will work for you.
  18. Ask one question at a time.
  19. Follow up your current question thoroughly before moving to the next.
  20. Usually ask questions open enough to get "essay" answers unless you are looking for specific short-answer "facts."
  21. Start with less probing questions.
  22. Ask more probing questions later in the interview.
  23. Wrap up the interview with lighter talk. Do not drop the interviewee abruptly after an intense interview.
  24. Be aware of and sensitive to the psychological forces at work during the interview.
  25. Limit interviews to about one to two hours in length, depending on the fatigue levels of you and your interviewee.
  26. Label and number all recordings immediately.
  27. Have the interviewee sign the release form before you leave or send a transcript to the interviewee for correction before the release form is signed.
  28. After the interview, make field notes about the interview.
  29. Write a thank-you note.
  30. Have a system to label and file everything. D
  31. Copy borrowed photos immediately and return the originals. Handle all photos by the edges and transport them protected by stiff cardboard in envelopes. Make photocopies for an interim record.
  32. Copy each interview tape. Store the original in a separate place and use only the duplicate.
  33. Transcribe or index the recordings. Assign accession numbers to recordings and transcripts. Make copies of all work. Store separately.
  34. Analyze the interview. Verify facts. Compare your results with your research design. Did you get what you need? What further questions do the interview results suggest? What improvements in your method do the interview results suggest?
  35. Go back for another interview if necessary.
  36. If you decide to, give the interviewee a copy of the recording or transcript. Ask for transcript corrections and a release form.
  37. Make provisions for long-term storage.