Oral History: basic good practice when conducting an interview



Oral History: basic good practice when conducting an interview

A lady being interviewed in her home

Interview in Bilbao


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 consider and reflect upon some basic tips for conducting a successful life history interview. 

Activity 1: Basic tips for good practice when interviewing

What constitutes good practice during an interview? In this activity, you will consider some basic 'do's and don't's' to bear in mind when conducting interviews for research.


Read the list below. Tick the activities which are examples of good interviewing practice and put a cross beside those which are not.

tick icon cross icon
Start with simple questions about basic biographical information
Interrupt your narrator while she is in the middle of a story, to ask questions or clarify your information
If you think of a question while the interviewee is speaking, write it down to ask them later
Ask leading questions to encourage interviewees to give information you are interested in
Ask open questions to understand how your interviewee feels or thinks: “What was it like to be part of that group”, “How did you cope…”
Express encouragement by saying “Very Good!” or “Oh Dear!” or expressions such as “uh huh” or “oh, wow!,”
Show appreciation or understanding through eye contact, facial expressions, and other non-verbal signs

Activity 2: Actions that can enhance the quality of your interview

In this activity, you will consider some actions which may enhance the quality of your interview and encourage an interviewee to give a rich testimony comfortably.


Read the statements below. Mark those which you think will enhance the quality of an interview. Tick any that apply. Then read the feedback.

© Irina Nelson and Alicia Pozo-Gutierrez - 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