Oral History: effective questions in an interview



Oral History: effective questions in an interview

Padmini Broomfield conducting an interview

Padmini Broomfield conducting an interview


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 this learning activity, you will consider how to avoid formulating the wrong type of questions when conducting a life history interview and also how to prompt interviewees to share their experiences in a rich way.

Activity 1: Question-types to avoid during a life history interview

In order to allow your interviewees to share very valuable and delicate information you must be careful how you formulate your questions. Certain types of question should be avoided.

In this activity, you will consider four question types to be avoided during a life history interview: unspecific questions, double-barrelled questions, leading questions, or questions formulated with unfamiliar language.


Read the example questions below and then choose what kind of question-type it represents. Then read the feedback for more information on each question type.

You wanted to move to Spain, didn't you?

How dreadful was your journey?

How far did you want to get in that job and how did you feel?

Tell us about your childhood.

What was the official discourse regarding the evacuation?

Additional Resources

Listen to this recording of an oral history interview. Note the type of questions that the interviewer asks, and how they avoid the question types mentioned in the activity.

Interview with Jay G

© 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