people who were eyewitnesses to history brings life to facts you find
in other primary sources. But to get more than "yes," "no,"
and "uh-huh," learn to ask the right questions!
1: Set a goal
Set a goalnot
too general and not too specificthat can be accomplished in a 6090
Step 2: Make contact
a source person ("interviewee" or "narrator")
who knows something about your subject. Talk to people from different
sides of controversial subjects.
your source person. Introduce yourself, explain your project, and
your goal for the interview. Ask if he or she would agree to be interviewed.
a time and place for the interview.
your interviewee to bring photos, scrapbooks, or anything else that
might provoke memories and stories.
3: Plan your questions
questions that will help you reach your goal.
Plan a variety
of questions, since each question word asks for a different kind of response:
asks for a noun: a person, place or thing;
asks about an action;
asks about a place;
asks about people;
asks about time;
asks for reasons;
asks about a process.
information by asking:
- Sort out
the questions in a logical order.
Step 4: Practice
your questions out-loud so you are comfortable with them and you know
they make sense.
your audio- or video-taping equipment so you know how it works. Get
extra tapes and batteries.
1. Ask your
interviewee to sign a release form so you can use the tape for your
project (see release form example).
the equipment to make sure it works and the interviewee's voice can
smile, look at the person while you talk!
2. Ask your
questions one at a time, pause, pay attention, and listen to the answer.
3. Jot down
follow-up questions as the narrator talks to avoid interrupting. Try
some of these follow-up techniques:
- Ask for
an example: "What kinds games did you play after school?"
- Ask for
clarification: "Then, did you take a train or a bus to work?"
- Rephrase a statement into a question: "So, you worked in the mines for 30
"Uh-huh." "And..." "What else?" "Tell
me about that."
1. Listen to or watch your tape right away to be sure the interview recorded.
2. Confirm any facts that were mentioned.
3. Evaluate whether you reached your interview goal:
- What other
questions do you wish you had asked?
- Where can
you find other sources to verify what your interviewee said?
- What ideas
did this interview give you for future research?
1. Log your tape: Use the tape counter and write down the number where
the stories or answers to your questions start and stop.
2. Index the tape with the date of the interview, the name and address
of the person, and your log of its contents.
Step 3: Transcribe and edit
1. Choose sections of the interview for your project:
- For written
projects transcribe excerpts, writing down exactly what they said;
- For video
or audio presentations: edit tape to use just what you need.
2. Find other sources--written or oral-- to confirm what you've learned
If you fine sources conflicting, look for the reasons and try to explain
them (for example, the two sources are from two sides of a dispute, or
an interviewee forgot dates, but remembered the emotional impact of a
with permission from material copyright 1983, Susan Donley and Janet E.
Turner. All other rights reserved.