Tips for carrying out an interview

We are keen to get the stories of British civilians and American airmen and women onto our website. If you know someone with relevant memories, why not interview them? Here are a few hints and tips to get you started.

Before the interview:

  • Before interviewing someone it’s useful to do some background research. Have a look at the history section of our website for some basic information to get you started.
  • Prepare a list of questions, but don’t feel that you have to stick to them rigidly – the best interviews flow naturally and are not rehearsed. We have put together lists of questions you might want to ask a civilian or a veteran to get you started.
  • It’s a good idea to record your interview using a good quality audio or video recorder. Make sure you test your equipment before you begin.
  • The person you want to interview may sometimes be uncertain whether they have anything interesting to say – you may need to do a bit of persuading. You could ask for a ‘chat about the past’ or the ‘story of your life’ rather than an ‘interview’ which can sound a bit forbidding.

Conducting the interview:

  • Be reassuring – remember the person you are interviewing may be as nervous and apprehensive as you are.
  • Choose a quiet place and sit close for better audio recordings.
  • Begin the interview by saying your name, the date and where you are, and then ask them to say their full name. If this information is part of the recording, it cannot get lost in the way that a file label might.
  • Give the person you are interviewing plenty of time to tell you what they think. Don’t interrupt or ask too many questions. But…
  • …be careful not to let the interview drift; it is your job to keep it on track!
  • Listen respectfully and maintain good eye contact.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as ‘why?’ and ‘how did you feel?’ Open-ended questions often get more interesting responses.

After the interview:

  • Thank them and provide a contact address or phone number.
  • If you have recordings, one of the first things you should do is back these up onto a computer and make copies, e.g. on a memory stick.
  • Next you may want to transcribe the interview or write a short summary of what was said.
  • Add the information from your interview to this website so that their story is shared with others and saved for future generations to enjoy. Take a look at our ‘how to’ guide on adding a person to the website.

For further information and advice, see the Oral History Society website, particularly their practical advice section and the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, particularly their field guide.

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