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History 301 -- Adamiak

How to find primary and secondary sources in the CSUSM Library collections and beyond.

OH Preparation

There are a number of steps to take before actually sitting down to record a narrator. This is not everything so check the Oral History Association (OHA) site for a complete set of guidelines


  • Your institution may require oversight and approval by the Institutional Review Board. The Oral History Association has come to an agreement with the national IRB that oral history does not require IRB approval, but your institution may still require you go through the process. 
  • The narrator must be advised about their rights, the intention of the interview, and future use in a written document. 
  • The narrator must sign a document acknowledged their permissions and agreement to be recorded and has the right to 'lock' or otherwise restrict access or publication for a period of time and given a copy. 


  • Do some research to be able to formulate open-ended questions. Questions that require a yes/no answer are not what you are looking for. 
  • Be ready to follow the narrator's lead as they may relate something that you did not uncover in your research that deserves to be followed up on. 
  • Be ready to ask for clarification or spelling of an unfamiliar name or word. Your transcriber will thank you. 
  • Have a quiet and comfortable space, good lighting, and water for the narrator. They will be speaking for long stretches and that is thirsty work. 
  • Structure the time to be comfortable, over an hour becomes exhausting. The interview may be broken up into several sessions if the narrator is willing. 
  • Be sure they understand and have signed the release documentation. 


  • The best laid plans can and will go astray. Practice with the recording equipment to understand all the parts and how they work.
  • Have a back up plan if something happens (video doesn't work, something gets dropped and broken, interviewee does not want to be filmed...)
  • A checklist to use while setting up is helpful (final steps--take the lens cap off and turn on the recorder and back up!) 
  • Check for sound to see where the optimal placement will be and allow for challenges such as soft or accented voices and background noise. 
  • Bring a back up power source and an alternative recording system to capture the voice only if you are using a video camera. (Smart phone placed in front of the camera is a good back up plan) as audio-only alternative. The sound file may be more useful for the transcriber since they will have to listen and playback a number of times. 

Settng up

  • Have some casual questions for the narrator while you are finalizing the recording preparation to put them at ease.
  • Do a sound check or give them a set of questions to review and have them read one or two out loud. 
  • Advise them you will take notes while they are speaking as they may mention something you may wish to clarify or expand on.  

After the session

  • Stay in contact with your narrator as a courtesy-send a thank you and let them know when the transcription is available. 
  • The narrator may wish to review the transcript before release of final version. That is their right. 
  • Make copies of all videos and recordings as well as your notes and permission documents. 
  • Provide the transcriber with a copy of the recording. 
  • You may need to provide a list of jargon, non-standard spellings, or acronyms to the transcriber. 
  • Be prepared to do a final clean up of the transcription yourself. 
  • Allow plenty of time for transcription. Rule of thumb is four hours of transcription work for each hour of recording.