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Tips for Conducting an Oral History Project

From the University of Chicago Character Education Oral History Project.

  • Choose your subject. Think about what kind of information you want and choose someone who might have that information and who would be willing to participate in the project.
  • Decide how you would like to record the interview and get permission from your subject to record their remarks.
  • If you are interviewing someone you don’t know well, plan to have a brief introduction prepared.
  • Write two or three introductory questions to get your interviewee comfortable with you. These might include their name, where they were born, or how long they have lived in the area.
  • Write 4-6 core questions that relate specifically to the information you hope to obtain.
  • Prepare some additional follow-up questions that expand on the core questions.
  • Confirm your interview date and time with your interviewee. No interview should last longer than one hour.
  • Make sure you have permission to record the interview.
  • Check all of your equipment ahead of time. Make sure you have fresh batteries and tapes, check the microphone, and be sure you know how all of the equipment works.
  • Bring some notes with you, but do not read from your papers. Your list of questions will help you keep the interview focused if your interviewee wanders off on another subject.
  • Ask your interviewee if you may use their name in your class project or if they would prefer to remain anonymous.
  • If you think you may need more information, ask if you can arrange for another interview at a later time.
  • Follow up your interview with a thank-you note.