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South Dakota Oral History Center: Oral History Interview Tips and Pointers

A sampling of the wonderful items available at the SDOHC.

Oral History Interview Tips and Pointers

1. Research and interview preparation.

a. Take time as necessary to research the oral history topic, the background of the interviewee, and the interviewee’s relationship to the topic.

b. Develop a strategy for your questions. One strategy is to have an adaptable set of starter questions that will serve as a basis for the interview while allowing flexibility of conversational flow. While some background questions are fine, the best interviews elicit detailed information that is relevant to a specific topic.

c. Arrange for an interview time and place that is accessible for both yourself and the interviewee. Ideally, this means a place that will be as quiet as possible for the allotted time. A quiet room with minimal outside interference (including door knocks, telephone calls, etc.) allows for maximum mutual focus on the topic and optimal sound recording quality.


2. Equipment check. What can go wrong, will. Have your recording equipment as prepared as possible. Conduct a sound check, and ensure that the microphone is near both interviewee and interviewer. When recording an interview, it is ideal for the interviewer to begin by stating the date and location, as well as both the interviewer’s name and interviewee's name. Restating this information if you begin a "Part 2" of the interview also will be helpful for curators and researchers.


3. Digital format of the interview. WAV format is best for creating master files. Digitally-recorded interviews MUST be recorded in WAV format in order to be deposited at the South Dakota Oral History Center (SDOHC).


4. Release forms (MOST IMPORTANT), demographic data sheets, and other paperwork.

a. ALWAYS obtain a signed deed of gift and release form that clearly states the interviewee’s permission to open and donate the interview in terms of title and copyright. Failure to do so greatly restricts who may access the interview and how they may use it.

b. Use your judgment on when and how to obtain the signature for the release form. At the interview or after the narrator has reviewed the transcript: each has its pros and cons.

c. For interviews being deposited at the SDOHC, make sure to have copies of the SDOHC release forms and other forms before the interview. Download the SDOHC “New Interview – Forms Packet” or contact the SDOHC to obtain a copy.

d. Send the original audio file to the SDOHC curator as soon as possible. The SDOHC prefers to receive all forms, audio, and any photos associated with an individual interview all at once, when possible.


5. Transcription.

a. If possible, transcribe your own interviews. This is “best practice” and a necessary step.

b. Use a style guide for consistency. A good one can be found at Baylor University:

c. Review, audit, and edit as necessary. Quality transcripts are highly valued by researchers! You may even wish to insert footnotes or glossaries to clarify technical jargon, identify certain individuals, etc.

d. Interviews deposited at the SDOHC are subject to review by SDOHC staff.


6. Closing the loop with the interviewee. If possible, the interviewer should give to the interviewee a transcript for review, as well as a courtesy copy of the audio interview.


7. For interviews deposited at the SDOHC, SDOHC staff will accession and catalog the interview. Interviews considered released ultimately will be open to patrons through USD University Libraries for research and copy. If you have any questions, contact the SDOHC at or call 605-658-3382.

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