Preparing Students To Do Research Interviews And Oral Histories


When we talk about the skills college students need to succeed, we tend to emphasize writing, algebra, research skills, and time management, and it’s true that all of those skills are important. If you take some time to read the academic literature from different fields, however, it quickly becomes clear that this list is missing something important: the art of the interview. From history and anthropology to psychology and even economics, research interviews are vital to academic work in a variety of disciplines.

Understanding The Research Interview

Research interviews fall into two main subsets: open-ended oral histories and qualitative interviews that aim to answer specific research questions, and each type has its own approach. For either type of interview, though, students need to begin with a firm grasp on the research process. It takes a lot of preparation to conduct a successful interview. That research will be reflected in the interview guide.

The Interview Guide

An interview guide is, at its core, a document containing the questions you plan to ask during the interview, but before students formulate any questions, they’ll need to do research on the primary topics involved. For an oral history, this might involve researching publically available information about the interview subject, or researching relevant time periods or social movements. When preparing for a qualitative interview, on the other hand, research typically focuses on existing scholarship so that the student can develop a clear research question. In both cases, though, the interview guide should emphasize open-ended questions that encourage the subject to share the most information possible.

Organizing The Research

It’s important for students to use reference management software to organize their sources during the research process because research interviews can take a long time to complete. Reference management software helps to ensure that all the necessary information is accessible later, especially if the course aim goes beyond the art of the interview.

Interview Technology

To perform a successful interview, students need to do more than simply switch on a tape recorder, and mastering the technology is – at least for some – the hardest part of the process. That’s why students are encouraged to repeatedly practice using their technology of choice, whether they’re using simple interview recording software or a variety of microphones and cameras. If at all possible, students should use separate microphones to ensure the highest possible audio quality and make it easier to listen to and transcribe the interview later.

After The Interview

After performing an interview, there are several possibilities. In some cases, specifically for targeted qualitative interviews, students simply need to listen to the interviews and record key information. After performing an oral history, however, it’s generally expected that students will transcribe the entire interview. Some choose to do this by listening to the recording and typing along with it, which can be time-consuming, while others use transcription software so that they can speak along with the recording. Original recordings should be preserved along with the transcription.

If students are going to graduate from college with a firm grasp of the research process, then learning to conduct an interview should be part of their education. When students have an opportunity to interface directly with interview subjects, their education comes to life. And that’s when a topic goes from an interest to a passion.

David Gutierrez has worked in the field of web design since 2005. Right now he started learning Java in order to get second occupation. His professional interests defined major topics of his articles. David writes about new web design software, recently discovered professional tricks and also monitors the latest updates of the web development.


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