Tips* For The Interviewer: Conduct An Effective Interview

1. Ask open-ended questions, not questions that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." Set the tone for the interview by asking open-ended questions from the very start of the interview.

2. Ask one question at a time—not compound questions.

3. Questions should be simple, brief and singular. Avoid rephrasing questions. Don’t worry if your questions aren’t perfectly worded.

4. Don’t ask "leading" questions.

5. Save difficult, touchy or controversial questions until later in the interview after rapport and confidence have been established.

6. Let the narrator set his/her own pace. Be patient, giving the narrator time to think and remember.

7. Learn techniques to jog the narrator’s memory. In many instances, the narrator is attempting to stretch his/her memory back over 50 years. An individual’s long-term memory does not fade with advanced age or senility as the short-term memory does.

a. Employ clues. Ask about specific events or experiences.

b. Use props. Refer to scrapbooks, photos, newspaper clippings, mementos, heirlooms, artifacts, maps, etc. Be sure to identify and briefly describe these on tape. However, do not rely too heavily on these, as the interview may become a recounting of piece by piece.

c. Elicit emotions. Ask the narrator to recall his/her feelings about important personal experiences.

d. Use physical descriptions. Ask the narrator to reconstruct in his/her mind the physical appearance of familiar things, i.e. the barracks, the battlefield, the village.

8. Encourage the narrator with facial expressions and occasional short verbal responses ("Ummm," "Interesting," "Go on.")

9. Remember that the sole objective of the interview is to elicit information from the narrator, not to correct, debate or educate. Your role is to serve as an alert, helpful questioner and your purpose is to strive for a narrator monologue. The interview is not a dialog. It is a one-sided conversation.

10. Pursue in detail, asking for examples. No matter how good or well developed your question set is, the key to a good interview is following up on new information presented.

11. If the narrator strays into non-pertinent areas (their health if not related to service injuries or veteran’s benefits), try to pull him/her back as quickly as possible by asking another question.

12. It is often hard to describe people. Begin by asking the narrator to describe the person’s appearance and then go on from there.

13. Try to establish where the narrator was in a particular story. Eye witness? Participant? Other?

14. Do not challenge accounts that you think are inaccurate. Do tactfully point out to the narrator that there is a different account of what he or she is describing and ask what he/she thinks of the different account.

15. Do not turn off the tape recorder "to go off the record." Turn off the recorder for the telephone, doorbell, emergency calls or other interruptions.

16. It is usually best that the interview be conducted in private with just the two of you. It is important that the narrator be comfortable and relaxed and that the setting be informal. The narrator’s living room is a good setting for the interview. You want to be as free as possible from interruptions.

17. End the interview at a reasonable time. However, do NOT set your interview up on a time schedule. Remember, the key to a good interview is pursuing new information in detail. A good interview will usually take more time than anticipated. One and a half hours is the maximum that one interview should last. The narrator will be tired and you should be exhausted from your efforts to be alert to follow-up questions. If you feel there is enough information to warrant a second recording session, then schedule it.

18. When concluding the interview, ask an obvious wrap question that will permit the narrator to "get off his/her chest" anything that you're questioning.

*These tips come from the Wisconsin Veterans Museum


Tips For The Interviewee: Questions To Think About Before The Interview

1. Family Background

1. When/why/how did your family immigrate?
2. Who are your grandparents?
3. Where did they come from? When/how/why?
4. What did they do?
5. What was their education? Their influences?
6. Who are you parents? Same questions as above.

2. Your Childhood

1. What was your family life like as a child?
2. What was your childhood like?
3. Where did you grow up?
4. What were you influences as a child?
5. Important memories?

3. Personal Interests

1. What is your philosophy? Your beliefs?
2. What are you passionate about?
3. What hobbies do you enjoy?
4. Dancing? Tennis? Jogging? Cooking? Painting? Singing? Musician?
5. Could you demonstrate?
6. Do you have any collections?
7. What personal items/photos would you like to display/talk about?
8. From your family? From your job? From your life? From your travels?
9. Who do you feel strongly about (Admire? Dislike?)
10. What sports do you enjoy as a spectator?
11. As a participant?

4. Future

1. What advice would you like to share?
2. With your kids?
3. Family?
4. Friends?
5. Business Associates?

5. Professional Life

1. What were your professional goals?
2. Did you achieve them?
3. What would you do differently?
4. How did you get your professional start?
5. Describe the different phases of your career?
6. What were the high points? Low points?
7. Did you have any important career moves?
8. Career timeline?
9. What is your area of expertise?
10. Who/what were your influences?
11. Watershed moments?

6. Your Family Life as an Adult

1. Describe your family?
2. How have you raised your kids?
3. What do you hope to teach them?
4. How have you approached married life?
5. What do you value in life?
6. What life’s lessons learned do you want to share?

7. Schooling

a. What was your schooling experience?
b. Elementary school? Junion High/High school? College?
c. Academic achievements?
d. Athletics?
e. Friends?

8. Influences

1. Important moments?
2. Important experiences?
3. Important people?
4. Important films/books/music/art?

9. Political Beliefs

10. Religious Beliefs

11. Legacy

a. What do you want to be remembered for?

12. Other People

a. Is there anyone else you would like interviewed?

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