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Special Collections: Oral History Resources

A guide for planning and creating oral history projects

Oral History Best Practices

Oral histories are different from other interview in that they seek to obtain personal insight and reflections placed in a historical context.  Because of this, interviewers must be aware of standard best practices and other considerations when preparing for and conducting an interview.

Before the Interview

  • Determine the goals, priorities, and scope of the project including who is conducting the interview and actions to be taken after the interview.  Consider using a project planning document as a way to plan your project.  Baylor University's Institute for Oral History has also designed a very useful project planning document.
  • Conduct research on the person, their topic, and the overall historical context for the interview.  This ensures that you ask insightful and appropriate questions during the interview.
  • Schedule a pre-interview meeting with the interviewee that is not recorded.  During this meeting, plan to outline the purpose of oral history, the purpose of the project, the theme and scope of the questions you will ask, and the repository's plan for the interview after it is recorded.
  • Ensure that the interviewee understands his/her legal rights, access restrictions, copyright, and the possible distribution of the interview by the repository.   Have the person sign a legal release form that outlines the above considerations. 

During the Interview

  • Conduct the interview in a quiet room with minimal ambient noise and distractions.
  • Open the interview with a statement that includes the names of the persons in the room, day and year of session, interview’s location, and proposed subject of the recording.
  • Ask open ended and leading questions but allow for the interviewee to insert his/her own personal narrative.  Ensure that you stay withing the project's scope and respect the interviewee's rights including avoiding any restricted topics or subjects.  

After the Interview

  • Ensure that the recording file and any other documentation of the project are secure and transferred to a pre-approved repository or institution entrusted with the safekeeping of the materials.  
  • In order to increase the accessibility of the recording, fully transcribe and compose a written description and/or guide to the interview.  
  • Ensure that the repository is in compliance with any access restrictions, methods of distribution, and anonymity requests.  

Further considerations

The Oral History Association and other institutions have prepared very detailed guides to best-practices, standards, and resources for oral history interviews.  For more information please consult the links listed below.