How to conduct interviews

  • Explain aims/process/approach.  This is very important and the place of the interview in the Norwood Street Histories Project needs to be clearly explained.
  • Open-ended starters ….from general to specific.
  • Be clear.
  • Listen carefully
    • to words & feelings.
    • to non-verbals.
    • to yourself.
  • Be interested & affirming (with your eyes and body).
  • Avoid leading questions
  • Open questions (cf closed) – or rather, a mixture, as appropriate
  • Recognise and respect cultural codes of language and communication
  • Non-judgmental.
  • Invite expansion (beyond generalisation or face value).
  • Invite concrete / detailed remembering
  • Take care with challenging questions (but don’t necessarily play ‘safe’).
  • Be flexible….& explain new directions.
  • Be interactive (? As appropriate!)
    • not just “data gathering”.
  • Keep an eye on names/dates/places…. but not obsessively, if  not key signposts for narrator (note proper nouns on pad to check later).
  • Be frank & honest.
  • Be competent with your recording equipment, practice before the interview!
  • Make sure your machine is working, that you know how it works and that its got enough battery power. Practice with it at home so that you’re familiar.
  • Make comprehensive list of things you’re interested in, you want to ask. You don’t have to cover all of these, but the list will be a useful prompt.
  • Confirm the date you have arranged.
  • You might ask if you can use your interviewee’s electricity if the interview is to be done in their home – that has to be your judgement.
  • Chat a bit to your interviewee. Some people are nervous, so just talking about anything off mike might help.   Talk about the Clearance Form – it can be signed either before or after the interview …. but don’t forget it!  It’s a form intended to reassure people, and it’s a legal necessity if MHMS is ever challenged.
  • Place your recorder near your interviewee. (some people clip mikes on to clothing, but if people fiddle or move a lot that tends to be the predominating sound).
  • Try to interview away from extraneous sound (ticking clocks, washing machines, noisy traffic etc)
  • When you start the tape introduce yourself on it; your interviewee; say where you’re doing the recording and what the date is.
  • Ask open questions – eg not ones with ‘yes’, ‘no’ answers.
  • If something interests you particularly, make a note of it and go back …. don’t interrupt, let your interviewee speak.
  • If your interviewee goes completely off-piste, gently bring them back to what interests you.
  • After the interview, send your interviewee a letter thanking them. If possible send them a CD of their interview.
  • Listen to the interview at home and write a précis of what was talked about – this will help your memory when it comes to including pieces of info. in your street history.
  • Send a copy of the printed street history to your interviewee.

Download Consent Form here