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Japanese Studies Multimedia History Project: Interview Tips & Resources

Multimedia Oral History Guidelines and Tips

Guidelines and Tips for Interviewing:


Before the Interview:

  1. Decide who you would like to interview. Take a look at the "Home" tab to understand the context for these interviews and how the interviews will be used.
  2. Contact Tara McGowan and Victoria Lyon Bestor at to discuss your idea and confirm if anyone else may be interviewing that person. Submission instructions will be provided at that point.
  3. Contact the potential interviewee and ask if they would mind being interviewed for the project. Explain what the project is and how the interview will be used.  
  4. Ask how they would like their history recorded: video, audio, voice-over-pictures, written, other.
  5. Set up the interview.  Please let Tara McGowan know if you are interested in using the professional Zoom Room.  
  6. IMPORTANT: Do background research on that person’s contributions to the field of Japanese Studies in the United States and how they participated with NCC or other associations. NCC may be able to help provide a list of relevant committees/events to consider; please contact if necessary.
  7. Develop open-ended questions to begin the interview or guide it, if necessary.  Questions should be broad enough to allow the interviewee to describe the event or situation, but limited enough so they understand what you are asking. For assistance with developing questions or question suggestions, see Constructing Good Questions
  8. Sending initial questions to the interviewee will allow them to begin to gather their memories and thoughts, and perhaps collect any memorabilia (photos, papers, etc.) they may wish to share. Your interviewee may also suggest topics or events they specifically remember and want to talk about.  


During the Interview

  1. Spend a few minutes chatting before you begin recording to create a comfortable atmosphere.
  2. Start the recording by stating your name, the interviewee’s name, and the reason for the interview.
  3. Begin with easier questions to warm up, ask any sensitive questions toward the end after you have developed a sense of rapport.
  4. Ask open-ended questions. For examples and tips on creating good questions, see “Constructing Good Questions.”
  5. Give the interviewee time to think and answer the questions. Be patient.
  6. Be an Active Listener: as you listen to the answers, show the interviewee you are paying attention by nodding your head, making eye contact and asking follow-ups based on their responses. Let the interviewee’s thoughts and ideas guide the conversation.
  7. Take notes. Let the interviewee talk uninterrupted; write down follow-up questions that may come to mind as they talk.
  8. Note any contradictions or inaccuracies, and gently probe to get more information.
  9. Before you end, ask the interviewee if there is anything they would like to tell you about that you didn’t ask.


After the Interview

  1. Thank the interviewee.
  2. Be sure to have them sign the release form, and make sure they understand how the interview is going to be used on the website.
  3. Find out if follow-ups are ok, and how to handle them (phone call, email, webcam, etc.).
  4. Write any additional notes about the interview that may be helpful.

Tips for Video Interviews

Note: Tara McGowan has a professional Zoom account.  If you use this account, she can handle the recording/editing of the video.  Please contact her at for more information.

(adapted from Tips for Completing a Digital Video Interview)

  1. Webcam: Position yourself in the middle of the screen, not too far back, but not zoomed in on your face only.  If possible, have the camera at slightly above your forehead, angled down.
  2. Smartphone: Use a stand if possible for for stability.
  3. Lighting: Too much lighting behind you (for example a window with light shining in) will make you dark, and too little lighting can cause strain.  Try to have lighting facing you from the camera. Check this before the interview, to know optimal lighting beforehand.
  4. Eye contact: Talk to the person as if they are really in front of you.  Don’t stare into the computer screen, but don’t be looking down constantly either.  A small sticky note next to the camera can remind you to look there during the interview.
  5. Background:  Check the space behind you.  Make sure the space that is visible is clean, not distracting.  
  6. Attire: Dress nicely to conduct the interview.  Again act as if you were in the same room.
  7. Interruptions: Minimize potential distractions from children and/or pets.  Turn off phone ringers and notifications.
  8. Practice: Turn on your webcam or set your phone up in the area you wish to record and check everything out.
  9. Distractions: Close all other programs on your computer.  Be sure to turn off any sound notifications you receive on any electronic device that will be with you.


Tips for Audio-only Interviews

These can be conducted in person using handheld recording equipment, or online using Skype or Zoom, but only using the audio file. Your university may have recording equipment you could borrow.  Please contact Tara McGowan at if you need any suggestions or guidance on audio equipment.


  1. Equipment: know your equipment, practice with it ahead of time to be comfortable, starting, stopping, and where to position it for best quality. Have extra batteries, or a power cord.  Know how to transfer the file to a computer, and have all the correct equipment ahead of time. Practice!
  2. Sound: Use an external microphone if possible, sound quality will be much better.
  3. Location: Make sure to choose a quiet location that will not be interrupted by children or pets.  Consider ambient sounds such as traffic, wind through the window, clocks, running appliances such as dishwashers, washing machines,or air conditioning/heaters, etc.
  4. Attire: Dress nicely for the interview.
  5. Eye Contact: Make regular eye contact and engagement (head nods, quiet uh-huhs) while the interviewee is speaking
  6. Device Memory: Make sure it will record for the entire length of the interview (which should be no more than 1-2 hours).
  7. Identification: Be sure to state your name, the interviewees name, and the purpose of the interview at the beginning of the recording.
  8. Memorabilia: If your interviewee has any photos or other papers they share and discuss, be sure to verbally describe them during the audio recording.  If they are willing, get a copy to share online with the interview.
  9. Language: English is preferred for the greatest audience, but if Japanese is the only option, please be prepared to offer a translation or summary.  If Japanese words are used in an English interview, please try to define them during the interview if possible.



Tips for In Memoriam/Memorial Biographies

  1. Please contact Tara McGowan and Victoria Lyon Bestor at to confirm no one else is working on the person you choose.  They can provide information about how that person was involved with NCC, and also point you towards any known obituaries or memorials.
  2. Read the project background on the LibGuide to understand the focus and scope of NCC’s project.
  3. Do background research to discover any additional organizations they were involved with, as well as any other online content you may wish to point to in the memorial.
  4. Consider the type of history you would like to create: written, voice-over presentation, or illustrated.
  5. Consider talking with people who knew and worked with the person to offer quotes or additional stories.

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