What to Ask and How to Ask It.

What to Ask:

  • Come with a list of prepared questions
  • Consult oral history websites for sample questions or use some of these.
  • Consider your subject--when have they lived? what special things have they experienced?

How to ask it:

  • At the beginning of the tape identify yourself, the person you are interviewing, the date, and location.
  • Ask brief open-ended questions.
  • Ask only one question at a time.
  • Don't be afraid of silence. Give the narrator time to gather his/her thoughts.
  • Don't worry if you fumble a question. It will help the narrator feel more comfortable with their own mistakes.
  • Never interrupt with a question. Instead write it down on a notepad for later.
  • Try to keep the narrator on the topic.
  • When asking for a description of a person start with appearance.
  • Sometimes asking about the negative in a situation will allow the narrator to bring up other aspects.
  • Try to establish where or who the narrator was in the story.
  • Don't switch the tape recorder on and off during the interview.
  • The best interviews happen when there are only two people present.
  • The interview should only be 1 to 1 1/2 hours long.
  • Jot down names of people and places on a note pad to check spelling later. Jot down questions you would like to ask later but be careful not to write to much. This can be distracting for the narrator.


Preparation Recording Equipment Interviewing techniques After the Interview