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Oral History

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

Interview Questions and Structure

Interviews are structured entirely dependent upon the project and its goals.

Typically interviews can be grouped as either a life history interview or a subject-based interview. In a life history interview, the interviewee's entire biography will be covered. These interviews are often conducted over multiple dates, focusing on specific eras of a person's life or themes in their story. For subject-based interviews, after short biographical information is recalled, the interview will then focus on the main focus of the project (for example: their involvement with a particular organization or specific person). 

Topics frequently covered by Southwest Collection biographical interviews include:

  • Family background (parents' names and occupations)
  • Childhood, home life, and interests
  • High school details (name, location, studies)
  • Any higher educational experiences
  • Any military service
  • Work 
  • Marriage and family
  • Organizations and volunteer work
  • Hobbies and other interests


For examples of questions from others:

Information Sheet

The Southwest Collection utilizes an interview information sheet that we require all interviews within our archive to have on file. This is an internal document that provides basic metadata and interviewee contact information. All interviewers should be accruing this information for each interview conducted and keep that for their own records. The types of information we recommend keeping alongside the audio recording: 

  • Series/Project Name
  • Interviewee name
  • Interviewer name
  • Date of Interview
  • Location of Interview
  • Interview Length
  • Short biography of interviewee
  • Short summary of interview
  • Interview keywords
  • Recorder technical information (type of recorder used, microphones, remote settings utilized)
  • Recording notes (if there are interruptions or noise issues that are worth noting)
  • Release notes (signed release form further notes on possible restrictions)
  • Further contact information (will there be other interviews or meetings with this person?)
  • Sensitive subjects (noting if the interview contains personal information, confidential knowledge or corporate secrets, criminal allegations, cultural slurs or offensive language)
  • Other Interview notes