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Asian American Experience: Interview Tips

This guide presents sample oral history resources for the course Asian American Experience. Fall 2014. Professor Allan P. Isaac. American Studies Department.

Interview Tips


Before the Interview

  • Identify interview subject. 
  • Contact the interview subject, introduct yourself, explain the purpose of the interview, time commitment and seek approval for the interview. If unsuccessful, try again.
  • Research the interview subject ahead of time for basic information, including historical events in the region that might have influenced the movements of people. This will help you tailor your questions.
    • the region/province/state they are originally from in their birth country;
    • when and why they came to the United States; and
    • professional/occupational background.
  • Define the scope of the interview and prepare the questions. 
  • Share the questions with the interview subject ahead of time.
  • One week before the interview date, email/telephone the interview subject to confirm interview date/time. Be willing to reschedule the interview if necessary.
  • Make sure the recording device works, and bring extra batteries. Bring a pen and a notepad to make notes if necessary.

At the Interview

  • Introduce yourself (high school attended, career of interest, etc.). The point is not your biography, but to put the interviewee at ease.
  • Explain the purpose of the interview again, and provide a sense of the format of the interview and estimated time commitment.
  • Arrive with questions prepared, but be flexible. Try to establish rapport, trust and respect.
  • Explain to the interview subject beforehand that they should only respond to what they are comfortable talking about with you.
  • Ask one question at a time. Be prepared to stray from your questions in order to ask follow-up questions relevant to what your respondent tells you. Let the interviewee do the talking.
  • Respect your interview subject’s time. When the time is up, check to see if you should wrap it up.
  • Respectfully ask follow up questions during the interview, particularly if there is something you don’t understand, or are unfamiliar with.
  • Keep a positive and supportive attitude during the interview; make eye contact, nod your head, and/or make other physical, but non-verbal affirming gestures.
  • Refrain from saying “mhmm,” “yes,” or sharing stories that you would provide in a typical conversation.
  • Give your interview subject time if they become upset as they describe part of their history. If a topic is of a highly personal nature, you can also ask if they would like to continue talking with the recording device off, and off-record.
  • If your interview subject is enjoying the experience and wants to talk further, consider bringing the conversation back to the topics of interest.
  • Thank your interviewee for their time, and if appropriate, ask them if they would like to receive a copy of the interview. send them a thank you card and a digital copy of their interview for their keeping.

After the interview

  • Send the interview subject a thank you email/card for their time and for sharing their personal narrative.
  • Send the interview subject a copy of the interview, if applicable. 

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