Oral history interview steps that are highly effective

Historical accounts have always held a fascination for many of us. Knowing about significant events that happened in the past is not only interesting, but it helps us understand present (and even future) events and occurrences as well. But if you have the responsibility of creating an oral history presentation or documentary, it’s another game altogether. You have to create your presentation or documentary in such a way that it sticks to the facts yet is still entertaining, and that’s not an easy task.

In the process of creating your oral history documentary or presentation, you will most likely have to conduct interviews with witnesses, those who have participated in the actual event or those who can give you at least a second-hand account of it. With this in mind, following is a step-by-step guide to conducting a proper oral history interview.

Step 1: Confirming the interview

If you are planning to conduct an interview with a particular person, you have to confirm the date and time of the interview with them. But apart from this, give them pertinent details about the interview, such as its purpose, the topics that will be covered, and how you will conduct the interview (whether it will be videotaped or taped, for instance).

Step 2: Gathering information

It also pays to know as much as you can about the topic. You have to do the proper research, whether online or by visiting a library. It is important for you to be familiar with the subject because when you are properly informed, then you have better control over the flow and structure of the interview itself.

Step 3: Formulating your questions

The next step is to prepare whatever questions you think are relevant. Write down all the questions you have in mind. But make sure that they are also broad and general enough so that the person you are going to interview will easily be able to answer the when, why, how, and what.

Step 4: Listening

Your listening skills are important, as it will allow you to determine if there are any sub-topics that may be interesting enough to pursue based on what your interviewee is saying. By listening well, you may be able to explore new topics and give your documentary or presentation that extra edge. Although you may already have a set of questions, don’t be afraid to divert from it if it could lead you to a better understanding of the event.

Step 5: Taking down notes

Whilst conducting the interview, you should have pen and paper ready to take down any notes, as this will help you come up with new questions as the interview goes on. If the interviewee mentions any names and dates, write these down as well so you can check these facts with the interviewee afterwards. In the same vein, if the interviewee offers a different account of the event from what you know, you can write this down and check it for accuracy later on.

Step 6: Ending the interview

When you are done with your questions, ask your interviewee if they have anything else they would like to tell you about that was not included in your questions. Afterwards, thank them for their effort, and offer to give them a copy of their interview.

Step 7: Transcribing the interview

Whether you have an interview on tape or on video, you should make a point to transcribe it or have it professionally transcribed. Engaging a professional company ensures you’ll get a transcript from someone who knows how to transcribe these kind of interviews. This way, your interview is more accessible and you can have an easier time checking for facts, statements, and inaccuracies.

This is where we can help. Contact Alphabet today to discuss our oral history transcription services.