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Mankato Kiwanis 100th Anniversary Oral History Project

Oral History Interviews

I have never conducted an Oral History Interview.  What do I do?

If you have never conducted an oral history interview, here are two readings that we ask you to complete along with a short quiz.  If you would like to read more, please see additional readings found on the Resources for this Project page.  In addition, take a look at our Top 10 Things to Remember when Conducting an Oral History Interview (below) for some helpful hints to think about before you record an interview.  If you have questions, please ask! 

  1. Read Principles for Oral History and Best Practices for Oral History from the Oral History Association found at
  2. Read "Interviewing Tips" from The American Folklife Center (Library of Congress) found at

Top 10 Things About Conducting an Oral History Interview

Top 10 Things to Remember when Conducting an Oral History Interview

  1. An oral history interview is not about you. The focus should be on the interviewee and they should do most of the talking, with occasional follow-up questions from you.  Keep your opinions out of the interview.  You may be inclined to interrupt and argue with your interviewee.  Don't!  You can record your own experiences and thoughts at a later time.  Consider submitting a self-interview or asking someone to interview you!
  2. Start the recording by clearly stating your name, date, time, location and have the interviewee state their name.  Here is an example: My name is Heidi Southworth and it is April 3, 2020 at 10:05 AM and we are recording in the University Archives as part of the Community History Project. Today, I am talking with ____(person gives their name). Test your equipment in advance of the interview and try to set up your equipment in a quiet place where the interview will not be interrupted by too much outside noise. 
  3. Once the interviewee begins talking, don't interrupt them. Interruptions disrupt the flow of their narrative, break their concentration, and mean you may never get to hear the rest of what they had to say. Wait until they complete their train of thought to ask a follow-up question or introduce a new topic.
  4. Keep your questions short and avoid complicated multi-part questions.  Do not ask more than one question at a time as most interviewees will address only one of the multiple questions and the other questions may simply be forgotten to answer later.  We have a list of questions in our Project Questions/Prompts section of this guide for you to use.  If you would like to ask other questions, please run them by your supervisor first. 
  5. Be open to hearing sad experiences (or happy) and negative (or positive) or ambivalent feelings.  An oral history should offer the interviewee the opportunity to reflect on their experiences thoughtfully and honestly without having to follow a party line. And it is your attentiveness and willingness to take the interviewee's feelings and experiences seriously that enables that thoughtful reflection.
  6. Above all, respect the PRIVACY of the person you are interviewing.  NEVER share their experiences with anyone else.  Do not share on any form of social media or a personal website what someone has said in their interview with you.  These reflections can be both painful or have a happy ending, and it is up to the person to decide where and when they want to share something.  This is one purpose of our donor forms.  We want the interviewee to be comfortable sharing their story with the Archives and campus community and it is their choice.  Do not try to persuade an individual to share their story online or to allow you to post the materials.  You are just collecting the materials for the Archives.  Archives staff will gather, organize and describe the materials and make them available in acceptable forms and places at a later date.  
  7. It is okay for you to provide concise restatements of what the interviewee has said or add brief observations and comments (in moderation and without bias) during the interview.  These can stimulate responses from the interviewee and inject more spontaneity into the interview.  Avoid skewing the contents with your own opinions.  Remember this is about their experiences not yours.
  8. Listen closely to your interviewee.  Smile and nod to show that you are still listening.  This encourages the interviewee to keep talking.  Avoid vocalizing "mm-hmms" and "uh-huhs" if you can as these will just clutter the recording. 
  9. Watch your body language.  Avoid staring out the window, looking around the room, tapping your fingers on the table, pointing at the interviewee when they say something you may disagree with or even frowning as these all suggest to the interviewee that you are hostile and don't care about their story or that you are not paying attention and really don't want to be there. 
  10. After the interview, send the interviewee a Thank-you note/email thanking them for their time.  And if they have questions, tell them to email the Archives team at

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