Getting Started

Doing the interview

Be reassuring:
Remember that you are their guest, and if they are elderly, that you may be the first person they have spoken to for several days. They will be as nervous and apprehensive as you are, so it is essential to be cordial and patient.

Choose a quiet place:
Try to pick a room which is not on a busy road. If you can, switch off radios and televisions, which can sometimes make it difficult to hear what someone is saying. Switch off all mobile phones.

Get close:
Image: Interview in the home

Sit side-by-side and if you are using a clip-on microphone, put it about nine inches from the person’s mouth. With a hand-held microphone place it as near as possible but not on the same surface as the recorder, nor on a hard surface which gives poor sound quality. Generally, the closer the microphone the better the results.

Keep your questions short and clear:

  • Don’t interrupt: Don’t ask too many questions. Your aim is to get them to talk, not to talk to yourself. Always wait for a pause before you ask the next question. Listen carefully and maintain good eye contact.
  • Respond positively: body language like nodding and smiling is much better than “ers” and “ums” and “reallys”.
  • Be relaxed, unhurried and sympathetic.
  • Don’t contradict and don’t get into heated debate.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask more questions, but don’t jump from one subject to another too abruptly. As well as a mere descriptive retelling of events, try to explore motives and feelings with questions like “Why?” and “How did you feel?”.

Getting behind stereotype and generalisation is one of the most challenging aspects of interviewing people. But remember to be sensitive and always respect confidences.

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