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Oral History

A guide to oral history resources at the Southwest Collection and beyond.

Conducting Oral History Interviews

If you are thinking about conducting an oral history interview, this page provides a basic overview of the interviewing process. See sub-pages for more information on recording equipment, remote interviewing, release forms, and transcribing interviews. 

General Overview of Interview Process

  • Getting Started: Supplies Needed:
    • digital audio recorder
    • pen and paper
    • release form and information sheet 
    • list of questions or topics to cover
  • Prior to the Interview:
    • Meet with Interviewee to address any concerns
    • Create outline of topics to cover
    • Find quiet space to record
  • Starting the Interview: begin with general information about the interview
    • "Today's date is ___. My name is ____. I'm here at [location] interviewing [interviewee name]. We are doing this for [name of project] and will be discussing [mention topics]."
  • The Interview (see also this page)
    • Typically we start our interviews with full name, date and place of birth, parents name and their basic information, as well as a few family details of the interviewee's childhood
    • Then allow the interviewee to tell their story in their own words. Ask questions that encourage detailed responses. 
    • When the interview is done, summarize your gratitude and what you learned from the interview; wrap things up with questions like:
      • Is there anything else I should have asked you?
      • What do you hope someone takes away from your story?
  • Post-Interview
    • back up your digital files as soon as possible!
    • listen to the recording to check for fidelity, as well as figuring out if there are other topics to follow-up on
    • abstract and/or transcribe the interview
    • send a thank you note
  • If donating interview to our archive:
    • reach out to SWC Oral Historians to discuss project prior to interviewing [if possible] 
    • ensure audio meets minimum archival standards and all paperwork is filled out
    • coordinate with SWC for accessioning into archive

Further Tips and Recommendations

  • Always be conscious of interviewee's energy and attention span
  • Use open-ended questions
  • Engage and be present at all times
  • Follow along and follow up-- don't be afraid to deviate from your initial outline
  • Respect their history and narrative (if you want to contradict, do so polietly)
  • Minimize yourself if possible but remember your listeners (ask for spellings, clarifications, and narrate anything that may need to be explained for those listening later of what is happening in the room)