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Tips and Techniques

Here are a few things to remember while you are conducting the interview.

Do

  • Start with easy questions about basic biographical information to help your narrator feel comfortable. Leave more difficult questions until later, when you have established a connection with your narrator, and she has become more comfortable speaking honestly with you.
  • Follow up with additional questions that encourage your narrator to say more about her experience. If you are interested in hearing more about something she shares, just ask.
  • Even though it is hard to wait, do allow long pauses or silences. Sometimes it takes a moment for the narrator to collect her thoughts.
  • Do keep the focus on your narrator’s story—try not to share your own experiences or feelings.

Don't

  • Don’t interrupt your narrator while she is in the middle of a story. Instead write other questions down so you can ask them later.
  • Don’t ask leading questions that make assumptions about what your narrator thinks or feels. Instead ask open questions to understand how she feels.
  • Don’t express encouragement with phrases like “uh huh” or “oh, wow,” because they can interrupt the narration. Instead show your appreciation or understanding through eye contact, facial expressions, and other non-verbal signs.

Interview Location and Time

  • Conduct the interview at a time and place that are convenient for your narrator. The more comfortable the narrator feels, the more likely she will relax and enjoy the experience.
  • Make sure that there is as little noise as possible. The sound of ringing phones, barking dogs, fans, air conditioners, refrigerators, or other electronic equipment can create background noise that will disrupt the interview.
  • If possible, arrange the interview so that as few people as possible are present. The presence of others will change how the narrator answers some questions or how comfortable she feels sharing certain stories.
  • Limit interview sessions to no more than one and a half to two hours. It may be tiring for the narrator to remember so much and to talk for such a long time. You can always do several short interviews instead of one long one.

Remember, the most important thing is to enjoy the chance to learn about the person you are interviewing. In other words, have fun!

Next: How to ask great questions

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