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AU Oral History Project: Oral History Toolbox

Tools of the Trade

What do I need for an oral history?

1) A subject to interview

2) Questions to ask

3) Permissions form (more about this later)

4) Paper to make notes

5) Your iPad

6) Quiet place

7) Time: Give yourself extra time the day of the interview to get to the interview location and set up to test the equipment

Things to consider

  • 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.
  • Compile a list of topics or questions.
  • Practice interviewing.
  • Make a personalized checklist of things you must remember to do before, during, and after the interview.
  • Verify your appointment a day or two before the interview.
  • On the day of the interview, give yourself extra time to get there.
  • Interview and record in a quiet place. When setting up, listen for a moment. Make adjustments, such as stopping the pendulum on the tick-tock clock, putting out the dog that’s chewing noisily on the recorder cord, and closing the door on the noisy traffic.
  • Make sure the interviewee understands the purpose of the interview and how you intend to use it. This is not a private conversation.
  • Start each recording with a statement of who, what, when, and where you are interviewing.
  • Listen actively and intently.
  • Speak one at a time.
  • Allow silence. Give the interviewee time to think. Silence will work for you.
  • Ask one question at a time.
  • Follow up your current question thoroughly before moving to the next.
  • 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.
  • After the interview, make field notes about the interview.
  • Write a thank-you note.
  • Transcribe or index the recordings.
  • Make provisions for long-term storage.


From Step-by-Step Guide to Oral History by Judith Moyer (copyright 1999)