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INTERVIEW TIPS

THE INTERVIEW

  • Prepare questions before you do the interview. See sample question sheets for veterans and civilians.
  • Begin by recording a brief introduction that includes the date and location of the interview, your name and the name of the narrator. Record that information on the tape before leaving for the interview. Rewind the tape and play back the introduction to ensure that the recorder is working properly. After listening to a playback of the introduction leave the tape in position so that you can begin recording the interview smoothly and without the risk of recording over the introduction.
  • Remember that the interview is about the narrator, not about the interviewer. Keep your own opinions to yourself, and don't ask leading questions. Let the narrators tell their stories.
  • Keep questions brief, and ask one question at a time. Listen to the answers carefully, and be ready to ask follow up questions when necessary.
  • Listen quietly and actively. Encourage the narrator by nodding and smiling when appropriate, rather than interjecting "uh-huh" or other comments that break into the narrator's story. Maintain good eye contact with the narrator.
  • Occasional silence is fine. Everyone needs a moment now and then to collect their thoughts before talking. Keep the recorder running and regard silence as a normal part of the interview.
  • Do not challenge accounts you think may be inaccurate. Instead, try to develop as much information as possible which can be used by researchers to establish the reality of events. As Walter Lord, who interviewed survivors of the Titanic has said, "Every lady I interviewed said she left the sinking ship on the last lifeboat. As I later found out from studying placement of the lifeboats, no group of lifeboats was in view of the others. Each lady probably was in the last lifeboat she could see as she left the ship."
  • Never interrupt a narrator while speaking. If he or she begins to ramble, wait for a pause and ask a question that will pull them back to the interview subjects.
  • Interviews work best when only the interviewer and the narrator are in the room together. If a third person is present, ask them tactfully to leave the room to ensure that telephone calls or other interruptions can be handled without disrupting the interview. Thank the third person for helping with this important task.

LOCATION OF THE INTERVIEW

  • Choose a quiet room where you will not be disturbed by other people, television noise, ringing telephones, or similar distractions. Try not to have the narrator talking over the noise of heaters, air conditioners, kitchen appliances, etc.
  • If you are using videotape, choose a room that is also well lighted, and choose a background that will compliment the narrator as well as possible.

EQUIPMENT

  • Audio:Use standard analog or digital cassette tape recorder, and standard 60 minute cassette recording tape. Record all interviews at the standard speed.
  • Use an external microphone, and ensure that it is positioned to record the best sound possible from both the narrator and the interviewer. Remember that both the questions and the responses must be audible. Beware of using the internal microphones built into many recorders. The internal microphones also pick up the recorder's motor noise and other distractions that an external microphone will not.
  • Video: Always use a tripod mount for the camera to ensure a steady picture. Frame the narrator carefully in the picture, focusing on the face and upper body and allowing enough room to capture some movement within the frame. Make certain that the background is not a distraction to the picture. Once focused and running, leave the camera alone during the interview. Do not zoom in and out repeatedly.
  • Be careful with lighting and ensure that there are no bright lights (such as windows) behind the narrator that will cast the face in shadow.

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

When the interview is complete, be sure the narrator signs the donor agreement forms. Label the tape(s) with the name of the narrator, the date, and number each tape (1 of 1, 1 of 2, etc.) Make a copy of each tape and label that as well, making certain to note which is the master tape and which is the copy.

Store the tapes in a dry, climate-controlled environment in a home or office. Keep the tapes in their plastic containers to reduce exposure to dust and abrasion. Remove the small tabs on the top edge of the tapes to prevent recording over the interview.

The best way in which to make an oral history interview available for use is to transcribe it (refer to Transcribing, Editing & Processing Guidelines for more information). If you cannot transcribe an interview, an index should be constructed that will help users find portions of the interview in which they may be interested. Interviews without transcripts or indexes are unlikely to be used.

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