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UCLA Magazine Fall 2004
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Fall 2004
In Their Own Words
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Tips for the Would-be Interviewer

David Boder researching in his lab

Photography by Reed Hutchinson, UCLA Photographic Services

Teresa Barnett M.A. '00, director of UCLA's Oral History Program

FOR THOSE who want to do their own family oral history, the UCLA Oral History Program can provide detailed suggestions on the types of questions to ask, equipment and recording guidelines, interview preparation and interviewing techniques, as well as the titles of manuals and how-to books on oral history. For more information or for referrals to training workshops, call the UCLA Oral History Program at (310) 825-4932 or visit its Web site:
. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

• An oral history is not about the interviewer. Your role is to ask questions and listen, not to share your experiences.

• A chronological organization is the best structure for an oral-history interview.

• Start a new topic with a broad question — “Tell me about” or “Can you describe” — that launches the interviewee into an in-depth description or reflection.

• You are collecting stories, not just facts or opinions. Try to get the specifics of an interviewee’s experience before you ask them to reflect on or assess that experience.

• Don’t interrupt.

• Have follow-up questions ready for when an interviewee finishes answering your initial question.

• Keep questions concise and focused.

• Avoid yes or no questions, except to clarify specific details.

• Don’t start the interview with highly personal or sensitive questions.

• Be ready to challenge the interviewee when there seems to be more to a story than you are being told.

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