Oral History practice: closed questions



Oral History practice: closed questions

Corsino by Cole Kivlin, Luis Argeo 2010

Corsino reading his own book, Luis Argeo 2010


The value of oral history lies in giving a voice to those that have traditionally been marginalised from official histories, fro example, women, migrants, the working classes, gay people, etc. Oral history also provides an informal insight into important events that happened in the past and an understanding of how those affected by such events experienced them.

In order to encourage the interviewee to share their views, opinions and beliefs on the issues that affected them, it is important to ask the right kinds of questions. 


In these activities, you will learn about the benefits and disadvantages of using closed questions in an interview. You will consider the purpose of closed questions and identify the kinds of closed question which are best avoided. 

Activity 1: Identifying closed questions

 In preparing for a life history interview, a researcher will usually plan the kinds of questions that they will ask, and it is possible to formulate a wide range of questions. Researchers will also improvise questions during an interview in response to the nature and direction of the discussion.

In this activity, you will identify the characteristics of 'closed questions.'



What is a 'closed question?' Read the characteristics outlined and below and check all that you think apply to 'closed questions.'

Activity 2: Advantages and disadvantages of closed questions

In this activity, you will consider some of the advantages and disadvantages of closed questions.


Read the following statements, and mark them as TRUE (tick) or FALSE (cross). Then read the feedback.

tick icon cross icon
Closed Questions help to find out short pieces of factual information. Questions about dates, names, etc. are essential but they don’t make for very rich stories.
The best formula when conducting a Life History interview is to have a balance between the types of questions you make.
Closed Questions should be avoided at all times.

Activity 3: Recognising a closed question

In this activity, you will read some examples of different questions and identify the closed questions.


Read the examples below. Mark the questions which you think are closed questions. Then read the feedback.

Activity 4: Closed questions that should be avoided

There a certain types of closed questions that should be avoided, and when preparing and conducting an interview, any researcher needs to be aware of their question style.


Read the closed questions below and mark those that you feel should be reformulated. Then read the feedback.

Additional Resources

Watch this interview with Germinal Luis Fernández by Miguel Arrébola (2012) and assess how many Closed Questions were made and if they were successful.

Interview with Germinal

© Irina Nelson and Alicia Pozo-Gutiérrez. University of Southampton. Padmini Broomfield - Oral Historian. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Created using the LOC Tool, University of Southampton