Tips for Oral History Projects


1. Have A Plan.  Take a systematic approach to investigating a defined topic or event.  

2. Do Pre-Interview Research.  Learn about the topic, event or era you will be asking about so you can formulate probing questions.

3.  Prepare Questions.  Consider the wording carefully so you don't ask leading questions or encourage the interviewee to say what he or she thinks you want to hear.  This is the most important aspect of preparing for an oral history interview. 

4.  Be Courteous.  Treat the people you contact for interviews with respect, explain what your goal is, and provide a copy of the transcript so they can check accuracy in content and spelling.

5.  Know the Equipment.  Spend some time familiarizing yourself with the recorder and microphone before the interview.

6. Get A Consent Letter Signed.  A consent letter is important because it formally states that the interviewee understands what an oral history interview entails.  Consent letters can be very brief, or fairly detailed.  Two forms used by Special Collections are available below.

7.  Get a Deed of Gift Signed.  Once the interview has been conducted [and transcriptions completed, if possible], a signed deed of gift transfers legal ownership of and rights to the oral history to an institution where others can use it for research -- otherwise, what's the point? Sometimes the consent letter and deed of gift are written as one document and signed at the time of the interview, or the deed of gift can be signed after transcriptions have been made.  This can be left to the interviewer's discretion, given the preferences of the interviewee; Some interviewees might like to get all the paperwork completed at once; others may be reluctant to transfer ownership until the project is complete.

8.  Transcribe.  Prepare a full, word for word transcription for future research use because most researchers want to study a transcript rather than the tape -- but never, never use the original tape to transcribe from.  Make a copy and use that to avoid wear and tear on the original -- tapes do break. A tape copying machine is available in the Library.  It is always a good idea to send a copy of the transcript to the interviewee for review.

9.  Make the Oral History Accessible.  Place the original tapes and transcripts in a library or historical society where they will be cataloged and made available for research!

updated 9/27/06 th