Thursday, February 4, 2010

Interviewing tips

I'll be going over these more in class, but here are some interviewing tips to be thinking about:

Oral history can be used to explore almost any topic, including the history of veterans, the civil rights movement, natural disasters, the history of a business, group, or institution, and many other topics.

A. Before the Interview

The usefulness of oral sources ultimately depends on the interviewer and the questions he or she asks. Thus, background research, both of the topic being studied and the person being interviewed, is the most important task for oral historians.

The best way to arrange an interview with someone you do not know is by a letter or email, followed up with a phone call.

Check the equipment. Interviewers should be familiar with their equipment and test it prior to beginning an interview. Difficulties concerning the use of recording equipment are almost always the fault of the interviewer.

B. Asking Questions

1. It is a good idea to make an outline of topics or questions to pursue in an interview. The interviewer, however, should not become wedded to any outline or set of questions. Be flexible. The interviewee may open up new areas of inquiry not considered by the interviewer.

2. Try to rely on open-ended questions as much as possible: how, what, where, and why questions elicit the best responses.

3. Start with noncontroversial questions; save the delicate ones, if there are any, until later in the interview.

4. Do not ask compound questions. Interviewees will likely only remember one question when they begin to answer.

5. Do not end the interview abruptly. Ask some deflationary questions, such as, “Is there anything I have not asked you that you feel is important to bring out at this time?”

6. Oral historians must be active listeners. The interviewer must simultaneously monitor both the recording equipment and the quality of what the interviewee is saying while also listening for clues about areas to explore with follow-up questions.

7. Do not interrupt the interviewee. Interviewers should use a note pad to jot down things they think of while the interviewee is speaking.

8. Do not be afraid of temporary periods of silence. People, especially older adults, often pause briefly when they are gathering their thoughts or searching their memories.

9. Ask for clarification. If you don't know what something is, it is likely other people do not know as well. Try to establish at important points in the interview where the narrator was or what his or her role was in the event.

10. Do not challenge accounts you think may be inaccurate. Avoid giving your own opinions.

11. Use props if you have them.

12. Elicit emotions and dialogue.

C. Interview setting

The interview should be conducted at a place wher ethe interviewee is comfortable. It should also be a place free of interruptions, distractions, and background noise.

D. Length of an interview

Most interviews last about 60-90 minutes. Generally, interviews that go longer than two hours start to become unproductive. If the interviewee is not tired, the interviewer should be (active listening is hard work). Remember, a second interview session can always be scheduled for another time.

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