Preparing for an interview

Before the interview you should

  • Have done some homework on the topics to be talked about. Depending on the circumstances of the interview this will vary from a thorough knowledge of the subject and its literature to a basic awareness of relevant terminology etc.
  • Have put together an outline of the questions/topics you are going to ask about. Your questionnaire or study guide doesn't need to be huge, but should cover major topics and related issues.
  • Have a think about the structure of the interview. Whether you are conducting a three, two, or one interview format, you will need to have an idea of whether you are going to let the interviewee decide the topics, follow a chronological path through certain events, or concentrate on specific topics.
  • Be able to use correctly all your recording equipment.


Many interviewers like to draw up a checklist of things they will need to take to the interview. For example:

  • Directions and/or a map
  • Some form of identification
  • Recording equipment
  • Spare batteries, cassettes etc.
  • Notepad and pen
  • Relevant documents/literature

Practise interviewing

There is a lot to do in an interview. An interviewer will listen to and remember what is being said, be aware of the developing themes of the interview, look for non-verbal cues, and often monitor a recording. The only way of getting used to doing this is to go out and interview people. To banish the nerves of the first few interviews it is advisable to have a practice interview or two with colleagues or friends.

Although many researchers do not use a life history approach, to get an idea of the huge number of questions you could ask someone of their life have a look at Paul Thompson's life history interview schedule for his 'Edwardian Lives' project (PDF, 8.1mb) on page 52.