Interviewing and Recording Guidelines
Participation Guidelines -
General Information - Before
the Interview - Tips for Effective Interviewing
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- Complete the forms included in the Project Kit. The
Biographical Data Form, Veteran's Release, and Interviewer's
Release (if applicable) are required and the
Library of Congress cannot accept your submission without them.
Complete the Audio/Video, Manuscript, and Photograph Log
forms as they apply to your materials. Please be as detailed
and specific as you can. Project forms are available online
- Only one interview, 25 minutes minimum length (or
longer), can be accepted for each veteran or civilian interviewee.
More information about interviewing and recording is available
in our Interviewing and Recording
Guidelines. Sample interview questions for veterans
and civilians and war
background information are available on this website. Documentary
materials are also welcome, as outlined in these guidelines.
- Prepare your completed recordings:
- remove or set the tabs to prevent accidentally
recording over the original and
- label the recording and its case with the full
name of the interviewee and the month/day/year
of their birth.
- Fill out the Audio/Video Log Form, including the topic
index portion, for the interview. This saves wear-and-tear
on the original recording and assists researchers and staff
in quickly discerning the content of the interview. Information
on transcribing and indexing recordings
is available on this website.
- For preservation purposes, please send the entire original
recording to the Veterans History Project. Please make
any copies you wish to retain for yourself before submitting
your recording to the Veterans History Project.
- For more general project guidelines, please see our
Participation Guidelines and our
Project Kit page. For additional information
about interviewing techniques, see the American Folklife
Center's publication Folklife
and Fieldwork: A Layman's Introduction to Field Techniques
or visit the Oral
History Association's website.
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- Prepare your questions before the interview and have them
written out for your reference. The interview will be even
better if you conduct a pre-interview with the
veteran or civilian, asking them to review the questions
and collect their thoughts. Please consult the sample interview
questions for veterans and for
civilians supplied in the kit
as potential models. You may also find it useful to conduct
some background research into the war(s) in which
your interviewee participated. Bibliographies
and research tips are available on this webiste.
- Use the highest quality video or audio recorder and microphone(s)
available to you to ensure that your recording lasts and is
accessible to researchers and the public. Digital and Hi-8
video recordings are preferred because of the higher quality
images they provide. For sound recordings, we recommend using
standard cassette tapes (preferably those constructed with
five screws) and good external microphones. All recordings
should be made at standard speed (SP); please do not
use extended time speeds. Microcassette recordings are not recommended.
- Become familiar with the recording equipment you will use
and be sure to test it thoroughly before you begin the interview.
- Try to find a quiet, well-lit room to use for the
interview. If possible, avoid rooms with fluorescent lights,
chiming clocks, or heating and cooling systems that are noisy.
Both the interviewer's questions and the interviewee's responses
should be heard. Try to guard against extraneous noises in the
room, such as telephones, televisions, or other conversations.
Clarity of sound is essential for ensuring future use by the
Library of Congress, historians, students, and others.
When making a video, mount the camera on a tripod
and position it a few feet from your interviewee. Focus primarily
on the interviewee's face, upper body, and hands, and try
to avoid frequent use of the zoom feature on the camera.
When making an audio recording, if possible, use an
external microphone positioned as close to the interviewee
as possible. Do not hold the microphone; rather, use a microphone
stand. Be cautious when using the internal microphones that
come in many recorders: they tend to pick up noise from throughout
the room. Finally, be sure the tape has started recording
before you start speaking.
- Make an introductory announcement at the start of each
audio or video recording. Record on tape the date and place
of the interview, the name of the person being interviewed,
his or her birth date and current address, and the names of
the people attending the interview including the interviewer
and his or her institutional affiliation or relationship to
the interviewee, and the name of the camera or recording operator
if different from the interviewer. If interviewing a veteran,
ask what war and branch of service he or she served in, what
his or her rank was, and where he or she served. If interviewing
a civilian who served in support of the armed forces, ask
what type of work he or she performed, where he or she served,
and during what war.
For example: Today is Friday, June 7, 2003 and this is
the beginning of an interview with John Smith at his home
at 123 Apple Lane in Pleasantville, Maryland. Mr. Smith is
78 years old, having been born on November 23, 1923. My name
is Jane Doe and I'll be the interviewer. John Smith is my
uncle. He is my mother's brother. Uncle John, could you state
for the recording what war and branch of service you served
in? [pause for answer] What was your rank?
[pause for answer] Where did you serve? [pause
- Other tips for making a great interview:
- Keep the tape recorder or video camera running throughout
the interview, unless you are asked to turn it off by the
interviewee. Never record secretly.
- Try to keep your questions short. Avoid complicated, multipart
- Avoid asking questions that can be answered with a simple
"yes" or "no." Ask "how, when,
and why" questions instead.
- Try to keep your opinions out of the interview, and don't
ask leading questions that suggest answers.
- Encourage the interviewee with nods of the head rather
than audible responses such as "yes" or "uh
huh" that will be recorded.
- Don't begin the interview with questions about painful
or controversial topics.
- Be patient and give the veteran time to reflect before
going on to a new question. Many people take short reflective
breaks in the course of ansering one question.
- Use follow-up questions to elicit more details from
the interviewee. Examples include: When did that happen?
Did that happen to you? What did you think about that? What
are the steps in doing that?
- Consider asking the interviewee to show you photographs,
commendations, and personal letters as a way of enhancing
the interview. Such documents often encourage memories and
provoke interesting stories.
- Be yourself. Don't pretend to know more about a subject
than you do.