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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)