Skip to Main Content

Oral Histories: Home

Within this guide, you will find materials compiled and created to assist you with recording and preserving oral histories.


Welcome to the Nabb Research Center's Oral History Guide. Within this guide, you will find materials compiled and created to assist you with recording oral histories. You will find most of this information on printable PDF files at the bottom of each section.

If you have any questions during your interview processes, we are here to help! We also have equipment you can borrow to record your interview (although your phone works just as well!) if you are in need of a recording device. Staff can also assist in sharing best practices on interviewing and preserving your oral histories. 

Additionally, the Nabb Research Center can preserve your oral histories for posterity. If you are interested in donating an oral history interview, please contact us.

A Note on Ethics from the Oral History Association: 

Oral historians have ethical obligations that are both specific to oral history methodology and shared with other methodologies and practices, ranging from anthropology to archival work. Ethics encompasses the principles that should govern the multiple relationships inherent in oral history. Everyone involved in oral history work, from interviewers and narrators to archivists and researchers, becomes part of a web of mutual responsibility working to ensure that the narrator’s perspective, dignity, privacy, and safety are respected. This statement draws upon the decades of thoughtful work concerning the appropriate way to engage with humans as participants in research projects.

For the OHA's complete statement on ethics, which include general principles for practicing oral history in an ethical way, click here.

Oral History Checklist

A good interview takes planning and organization. We suggest you take the following steps before, during, and after your interview.


  • Establish interview date, time, and location   
  • Prepare individualized question sheet based on interviewee experiences and project goal 
  • Test recording equipment with a sample recording; check batteries or ensure device is charged 
  • Review Oral History Resource Guide and Interview Tips (attached) 

Day of Interview 

  • Prepare room with amenities (i.e. water, tissues, or other accommodations for interviewee)  
  • Remove any distractions or disruptive noises from interview room 
  • Have interviewee complete Oral History Project Interviewee Agreement (attached) 
  • Complete Oral History Biographical Sketch (attached) 
  • Photograph of interview subject (optional) 


  • Write thank you note to interviewee 
  • Turn in all interview materials to Nabb Center, if applicable:  
  • Interviewee Agreement 
  • Biographical Sketch 
  • Digital file or tape (retain original) 
  • Equipment borrowed from Nabb Center 
  • Interview log noting topics discussed (optional) 
  • Transcription and/or translation of interview (optional) 
  • Any additional materials 

Tips for a Successful Interview

As you continue to record interviews, you learn about things that work and don't work. Here is a list we have compiled of Dos and Don'ts.

  1. Be Prepared. Research your topic, find out information about your informant, test equipment, create a list of questions, gather supplies, confirm the interview meeting place and time.
  2. Be Professional. Clearly explain to the informant who you are, why you want to do the interview and what will happen to the information you collect. Never record secretly. Always be courteous and polite when entering another’s home.
  3. Be Yourself. Don’t pretend to know more about a subject than you really do.
  4. Phone recordings are fine. Using your phone to record an interview works just as well as an expensive recorder. If you prefer to use other equipment, the Nabb Center can loan you a recorder.
  5. Listen to the Room. Before you start recording, listen to the space you are in.
    • The ideal space for recording is a medium-small carpeted room with lots of furniture, curtains, and doors that close. Avoid kitchens, garages, and other open spaces (think echo).
    • Avoid outdoors unless ambient sound relates to the interview content and you have adequate wind protection.
    • Turn off televisions, music, cell phones (silent not vibrate). Be aware of loud ticking clocks or other humming noises coming from refrigerators, computers, air conditioners, heaters.
    • Close as many windows and doors as possible; avoid squeaky chairs.
    • Politely ask others in the house to refrain from making noise (washing dishes, watching TV, using the microwave, talking on the phone) during the interview.
  6. Sit close enough to your informant so that you can operate equipment effectively. Be aware of “hand noise” when holding a microphone and noise from rustling papers, tapping fingers, clicking pens, writing on the same surface as the recorder.
  7. Make a brief opening announcement at the start of the interview that specifies the date and place of interview and the names of the interviewer and interviewee.
  8. Keep the recorder running throughout the interview. Don’t turn off the recorder except when asked to do so or when an interruption requires it.
  9. Be Attentive. You can encourage your informant by paying attention to them. Ask follow up questions when appropriate. Don’t get overly distracted with checking and revising questions, or fussing with equipment.
  10. Keep your questions short. Avoid multi-part questions. Never ask a question you don’t understand.
  11. Do not speak over your informant. Avoid laughing and saying “uh-huh” while your subject is talking. Use body language and eye contact to encourage.
  12. Don’t forget your paperwork. At the conclusion of the interview don’t forget to complete the release form, thank your informant, and return the room to how it was before you started the interview.
  13. Save your recording in multiple places. Make sure to check your computer copy of the recording before deleting the original from the recorder or your phone. Maintain the original until the Nabb Center confirms their copy works.

Biographical Data

Creating a record of who it is you are recording is important for creating context, as well as for administrative and historical purposes. We suggest you complete our Biographical Sketch Worksheet and document some personal information about your interviewee, in respect to your interview topic, before or after your interview. Some information is optional and the "additional information" suggestions are not exhaustive.

Our worksheet includes space for you to record your interviewee's: 

  • Full name
  • Phone number
  • Address
  • Birthday and place of birth
  • Primary topic of your interview 
  • Additional information pertinent to your primary topic of interview – this could include any of the following: 

    • Government Offices Held (City, County, State, National, and Dates)

    • Political Party (Registration, Positions Held, Dates)

    • Military Service (Branch, Rank, Dates)

    • Civic and Community Activities (Organization/Activity, Offices Held)

    • Religious Affiliation and Activities 

Interviewee Agreement

It is important to document that your interviewee has agreed to be recorded in writing, especially if you plan on donating your interview to the Nabb Research Center, or any institution, in the future. To protect both the interviewee and your own rights, please complete the Interviewee Agreement under the Worksheets tab. 



Profile Photo
Ian Post
430A Academic Commons (Nabb Center)

University Archivist and Special Collections Librarian

Profile Photo
Jen Pulsney
430B Academic Commons (Nabb Center)