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Oral History - A 'how-to' Guide

Who to interview and what to ask

Having decided to do some interviews, you need to decide who to interview and what to ask them about. This should be driven mostly from your club’s history – any key events you’ve found out about or have heard people talking about are good places to start.

Blaina CC's Past and Present match 2010 - a wide range of potential interviewees!

  • For a list of general TTF questions that can be downloaded click here: Sample TTF Questions
  • Whether you decide to use TTF questions or not, make sure that your questions are OPEN and UNBIASED. You want to encourage people to be honest and get talking – so don’t ask questions that can only be answered with yes or a no or that seem to ask a certain answer. For example, try: ‘Tell me about training when you were young’ instead of ‘All youngsters are spoilt rotten and lazy these days, I bet they weren’t when you were younger?’
  • Do ask people about their feelings, thoughts and impressions. For example: ‘What was your most memorable match?’ or ‘How did you feel when you won the league?
  • Most of all, these questions are to get people talking. Let the conversation be natural
  • If you can – get the widest range of people possible to give you the full life of the club – old players, the committee members, coaches, stalwarts, current players, young players, tea ladies, social secretaries, supporters.
  • Do have a basic idea of what you want to ask people and know a little about their background if you can.
  • Don’t stick too rigidly to a formula or questions – and try not to cut people off!

Listen here to an unedited TTF interview – so you can see what it sounds like. This is an extract from TTF's Emma's interview with Alan Williams of Blaina CC:

Extract from TTF interview with Alan Williams, Blaina CC (mp3)

Equipment and technical info

With new digital recorders, there are so many to choose from and you can get a whole range of equipment depending on how much money you’re willing to spend. At TTF we’re mostly interested in the stories you’re collecting rather than pristine quality recordings, but here are some thoughts.

DO remember though that with all technology this changes so quickly – we’ll try and keep this advice up-to-date, but some of the links below might contain better info.

  • For up to the minute advice, see the Oral History Society Website or the British Library’s Oral History Dept
  • Use a ‘solid state’ digital recorder if possible (one with no moving parts and that records directly onto a memory card). Most available to buy now are solid state.
  • Recording in stereo with external microphones gets a great sound
  • Record in .wav (wave) format rather than compressed files like .mp3. If you can record at 44.1kHz 16 bit and/or 48kHz 16bit – a good standard at a widely recognised format. This takes up more space than compressed files but will record a better sound and be transferable on almost all computer systems
  • Use a recorder that is easy to connect to a computer – either with a removable SD memory card or with a USB connection
  • If you’re buying, get hold of a recorder that can use mains supply as well as batteries.
  • Many recorders have microphones included, the oral history society advises you to use separate microphones, for example lapel mikes. This is all up to you – but if you use lapel mikes make sure that you have one for the interviewer as well as the interviewee – you need to hear what questions are being asked!

We don’t do many video interviews here at TTF, but for those of you who want to take the plunge you can get some great material this way.

For advice on recording in video see:

In any format, once you’ve recorded your material:

  • Make sure you CLEARLY LABEL your files with the interviewee's name and date of interview and BACK THEM UP – you don’t want to lose them!


A scary legal term, but one that is very important for oral history!

The most important thing to remember is that people own the copyright of the words that they have spoken. In any recordings you make, THE PERSON YOU HAVE SPOKEN TO MUST GIVE THEIR INFORMED CONSENT FOR YOU TO USE THEIR WORDS. It is very important to get this at the time, if not, you will not be legally able to use the interviews for 70 years after the year the speaker died – so a considerable time!

As you know, when you upload anything to TTF you have agreed that you have gained permission from the copyright holder to do so. If you do not there could be serious consequences!

We’ve put together a release form for you to download and to get people to sign. Here's the link about it:

Release Form

As you can see, the interviewee gives permission for their interview to be used by us at TTF and for your club to use in its own research and publicity. Make sure that the person signing the form knows what they are signing this for, and that they know their words could be used on the internet/other places.

The best time to get this permission is during the interview itself, either before or afterwards. In some ways afterwards is better, as the interviewee knows exactly what they have said!

The most common reason for people not wanting oral historians to use their words is that it might cause offence to people. At TTF we have a general policy to not use recordings that people do not want us to, however juicy! As a courtesy, do show your interviewees any stories that you have made using their words, if nothing else I’m sure they’ll want to see the final result!

The Interview

TTF's Emma interviewing Dave Harland at Spondon CC

When it comes to the interview itself, explain fully to your interviewee why you are interviewing them and be reassuring – most people find being interviewed a strange experience, and might be nervous, so do your best to relax them.

Make sure you choose somewhere QUIET. It’s amazing how much background noise will come out on the recording – things like ticking clocks, cars going past and so on! Also put the microphone or the recorder as close as possible to your interviewee.  As long as we can hear the stories then background noise isn’t too much of a problem for us at TTF, but it will make your job editing MUCH easier if there’s very little of it! Also try and pick a room that’s not too echoey, with soft furnishing. People’s living rooms often work well, but empty changing rooms do not. TTF’s Emma has held quite a few interviews in cars on days when the clubhouse is busy – it sounds surprisingly good!

During the interview:

  • Don't interrupt and don't ask too many questions. You want your interviewee to talk, not you! 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.
  • Try not to jump from topic to topic, and remember to keep your questions OPEN and UNBIASED.

After the interview – make sure you get that release form signed, and obviously thank your interviewee. I know that you’ll see most people around the club, but do make sure you keep them aware of what’s going on.

Most importantly of all LABEL your recording file with the interviewee’s name and BACK UP the recording – or you'll have to do it all again!