Basic Interview Guidelines


For those using the following life story questions to assist someone else in telling their life story, you might also find these very basic interview guidelines helpful.

Decide Who You Want to Interview

Choose someone who you would like to learn something from, someone who connects to your life in some way, who inspires, intrigues, or fascinates you.

Explain Your Purpose

Be clear about why you want to interview the person, and that they have the final say in approving its use.

Take Time to Prepare

Think about your goals, get your questions ready, and try out your equipment to be sure it is operating properly.

Use Photographs

Whenever available, recorded documents and images can help a person recall the stories and events of their life.

Create the Right Setting

A relaxed, comfortable, and familiar location, like the person’s own home, is usually most appropriate.

Get the Story

Your job is to help the person uncover and share the richness, depth, connectedness, and overall meaning in their life.

Use an Open-ended Interview

Encourage a free-association of thoughts, and deeper responses; have questions ready to ask but use them only when needed; pat questions will give you pat answers.

An Interview is Not a Conversation

It should be informal and loose, but the other person is the one doing the talking; you are providing questions, and seeking depth, when necessary.

Be Responsive and Flexible

Be sincerely interested in what the other person has to say, and show it, while being able to go with the flow.

Be a Good Guide

Look for signals during the journey about when to ask another question, when to ask them to elaborate, and when to go on to a new topic; a good guide is sensitive and reassuring.

Listen Well

This takes concentration; it means really caring about what they have to tell you, and building a bridge of trust between you.

Emotions Will Emerge

Respect, acknowledge, and accept whatever is going on for the person; try to be understanding; pauses can be helpful.

Look For Connections

Help the person find the overall meaning or central themes in their life story.

Be Grateful

Let the person know that what they have shared is a valuable gift; and be sure to thank them.

Be Organized

Be sure to label all of your tapes properly; transcribe their words accurately, and keep tapes and transcripts in a safe place.