This section is aimed at those undertaking an oral interview as part of their project for Threads. The type of questions generated here could form a questionnaire to be given to people to whom you cannot meet face-to-face – people who have emigrated or are living outside the locality, for example.
Students should be able to answer the question from the person they are interviewing who may ask: “why do you want to interview me?” Answering this question will go a long way to the students’ understanding of what they hope to achieve from the interview.
Ask open-ended questions
and avoid ones that provide a list of alternative answers. Questions that prompt a long answer
are really important. So, a question like: “What was it like growing up in this area?”
would encourage more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and might put the interviewee at ease. So too would be the ability to mix questions with encouragement e.g. how interjections like ‘Tell me more’
or ‘Is that so?’
can get a lot of additional information from an interviewee.
Interviews may be autobiographical or topical and this will shape the type of questions being asked.
Create a list of 10 sample interview questions and get the students to practice on each other. The first questions might typically elicit basic personal information – the kind of information historians record - like the name of the interviewer and interviewee, the age of the interviewee and the date the interview took place. The interview would progress from this point to questions about the topic being explored. It may be helpful to arrange the sequence of questions so as to keep to the end any questions that might be difficult or challenging to the interviewee.
Interviewees would benefit from getting a list of questions in advance so that they could be prepared. The interviewee should clearly understand the purpose of the interview so that they can provide the most useful information possible.
Students should be advised to remain alert to the sensitivities surrounding certain stories or personal tragedies. It is important that no one is upset by being interviewed.