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Project Kit

Getting Started - Guidelines - Questions for Veterans - Questions for Civilians
Indexing & Transcribing - Finding or Creating a Home for Your Interviews - Bibliographies & Other Resources -
Project Forms - Delivering Materials to the Library - Request a printed Project Kit

Interviewing and Recording Guidelines

Participation Guidelines - General Information - Before the Interview - Tips for Effective Interviewing

General Information

  1. 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 at http://www.loc.gov/vets/forms.html.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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Before the Interview

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Become familiar with the recording equipment you will use and be sure to test it thoroughly before you begin the interview.
  4. 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.

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Tips for Effective Interviewing

  1. 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 for answer]

  2. 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 questions.
    • 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.

Getting Started - Guidelines - Questions for Veterans - Questions for Civilians
Indexing & Transcribing - Finding or Creating a Home for Your Interviews - Bibliographies & Other Resources -
Project Forms - Delivering Materials to the Library - Request a printed Project Kit

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  June 8, 2005
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