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Interviews & Oral Histories: #4


You’ve done it!  Regardless of whether an interview is your first or your hundredth, I hope you will feel a sense of accomplishment as you part company with whomever you’ve interviewed! By this point, you should have an audio (if not visual) recording of your dialogue plus notes you’ve composed prior to and during the conversation.  You should also have a signed interviewee release that may allow you to draw from the experience indefinitely.

The Significance of Your Relationship with Your Subject
In my last discussion of general and oral history interviews, I noted that it is good to impress your subject positively.  This includes:  projecting a pleasing appearance and voice; demonstrating the level of your commitment, as shown by the research you’ve conducted and organization of pertinent questions; and, your sensitivity to their physical, mental, and emotional circumstances.

This last issue is one that is often neglected by professional as well as novice interviewers. Too often a sense of righteousness on the part of the interviewer as truth teller can prevent development of a significant rapport with the interviewee.  For while it is important to maintain a professional relationship with them, the lack of a rapport with your subject may mean a diminished level of trust and desire to reveal themselves fully.

Your Parting Words
As you prepare to depart from an interview, you will want to leave the door between you and your subject open to further communication.  After all, they’ve trusted you with a part of themselves and they want to know that you’ll value what they have shared with you. Even if you have not established a warm relationship, you will want to facilitate future communication and assure them that they will have an opportunity to view a manuscript of the interview.

This does not mean you are relinquishing your role as the interviewer, nor does it imply you are going to change revealing the realities of your conversation. However, if errors are found by either of you, there should be a means by which you can add explanatory notes. This is especially useful in clarifying names, relationships, numbers, dates, and sequences, which are easily transposed or inaccurately described.   

Editorial Procedures
During the transcription and editorial process, you may need to communicate with your interviewee to gain clarity on numerous points. You can accumulate several issues prior to initiating such discussion to minimize the number of times this is necessary.  To maintain accurate records, it is good to receive replies to your questions by email or other written documentation

The method[s] of annotation you choose for your manuscript can take several forms. This is where your creativity comes into play.   Personally, I try to avoid footnotes.  Instead, I employ bracketed statements for minor clarification and section endnotes for issues dealing with proper nouns and other facts that may stimulate a future reader to pursue answers to their own questions.

Although the interviewer should not remove actual dialogue, you can provide clarification of key points by providing a glossary of foreign and specialized vocabulary, as well as an index. Some authors dislike the use of indices if they plan to publish via a downloadable vehicle that may render pagination inaccurate and irrelevant. However, readers of a work published on the Internet can usually utilize a find/search tool to locate terms they wish to revisit and readers of a hardcopy edition will be pleased with the inclusion of an easy reference tool at the back of the work. 

Another means for heightening the usefulness of your final product separating the interview into sections. If the interview was conducted during multiple sessions, utilization of chapter breaks is quite logical. Even when the conversation was held on a single occasion, separating sequenced questions and answers provides natural breaks.

This type of layout should facilitate communication between you and your subject[s] as you review the nearly completed project. Once you have completed editing and annotating your transcription, you can proceed to shaping a final format to meet any requirements you must meet for publication of the project. [See a previous blog, Interviews & Oral Histories: #3, for the closing  discussion of interview publication.]

Future Interviews
The potential for future interviews of your subject may depend on issues beyond a mutual desire to do so. For example, if the interview you have just completed is part of a larger project controlled by someone or something else, you may be limited in your ability to continue your relationship with your subject.  And, although your current publishing source expresses a desire for you to conduct further interviews, shifts within their organization may actually preclude your publishing future projects with them. Even when you are working wholly freelance, your ability to publish may depend on your finding a new source willing to take on the project. And if you and/or your subject decide to expand the initial work into a series of articles or even a book, the work will become even more challenging.

As I’ve noted before, planning, executing, and publishing an interview is a unique experience. Even without the permanency of the Cloud, an interview lives far beyond the event itself! The effort you put into researching your subject’s life and work may prove of interest to people far beyond your targeted readership.  The dialectical elements of the conversation, your introductory remarks, annotations, and other explanations will serve not only to illuminate your subject, but also your own life’s work.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website,  

This post first appeared on , please read the originial post: here

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Interviews & Oral Histories: #4


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