Oral history guide

Page 5 – Processing the interview

Processing the interview

Checklist for initial processing

  • Write a letter of thanks to the interviewee enclosing a copy of the agreement form for their records.
  • Make a copy of the interview and label all recordings. Include name of interviewee and interviewer and date.
  • Think critically about your interview. Give consideration to what was good about it and what could be improved next time.

Abstracting and transcribing

An abstract is a comprehensive listing of subjects covered in the interview, with a record of where on the recording the information can be found (see sample abstract, 57k, pdf).

If you abstract an interview, potential users will have to listen to it to obtain the information it contains. If you transcribe it, researchers need only read the transcript.

A transcript is a written verbatim copy of what is in the recording (see sample transcript, 83k, pdf).

Abstracting

The purpose of an abstract is to give the user an idea of what the interview contains without providing detail of what the interviewee says. If a researcher wants to use the information, she or he must listen to the interview.

  • Use words like 'explains', 'describes', 'mentions', 'recounts' and 'recalls' to give the researcher an idea of what is included and how much material there is on a particular topic. 'Mentions how travelled to school', for example, means that there is less information than if you had written 'Describes how travelled to school'. It is important to choose your words carefully.
  • Quotes help to give an idea of how the interviewee speaks, and they may be used to highlight key points in the testimony or clarify a difficult technical explanation. However, use them sparingly; you are not making a transcript.
  • Do not include too much information. The abstract is only a guide to the contents of the recording (around 1½–2 A4 pages of abstract per 30 minutes of interview).
  • When you are happy that the abstract gives an accurate summary of what the interview contains, copy it and place it, with the agreement form and biographical data about the interviewee, in an interview file.

Transcribing

Transcribing is very time-consuming. A verbatim transcript will entail about six or seven hours' work for each hour of material you have recorded.

  • Include a title page with the name of the interviewee, the interviewer and the date of the interview. State clearly whether restrictions have been placed on any parts of the interview.
  • Listen to about 10 minutes of the interview before starting to transcribe.
  • Transcribe what you hear. Do not put words or phrases into the interviewee's mouth, even if what they say is awkward or ungrammatical. Do not change word order.
  • Make a first draft of the transcript.
  • Punctuate so that the transcript makes sense of the words as they were spoken. Be consistent in your punctuation; don't, for example, indicate a pause by a dash (–) in some transcripts and three dots (...) in others.
  • Put in full stops at what seem to be natural sentence breaks. Transcripts with little punctuation are very difficult to read, let alone understand.
  • Make a new paragraph when the subject of discussion changes, to avoid long unbroken passages.
  • Include word contractions as they occur, for example, 'don't' and 'wouldn't'.
  • If any words are indistinct, leave a space or underline your guess, so that when you make the second draft you will be aware that you need to listen especially carefully at that point. (You will now see the advantage of getting interviewees to spell names of places and people on tape.)
  • Use 'stage directions' with care. Some may be useful to help understand what is happening, for example '[reading from newspaper]' or '[interruption for telephone call]', but those which make interpretations – '[ laughs sarcastically ]' – should be used with caution.
  • When you are satisfied that what is on the page accurately reflects what is on the tape, type a final copy and assemble the interview file.
  • Before the transcript is deposited in an archive or used in any publication, the interviewee should have the opportunity to check it.

The interview file

Your budget will determine how the interview file is put together. It may consist of nothing more than:

Make copies of each of these and any other material you have (e.g., copies of newspaper cuttings, photographs, diary and log entries), and store them in a plastic cover.

Storing the recordings

It is important that recordings are stored in the best possible conditions so people can have access to them in decades to come.

To ensure this, your first choice is to offer them to the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.

If you choose not to do this, you may consider offering them to a local library or museum, but check before you begin interviewing that your institution of choice has the ability to archive recordings.

All archives will require a complete interview file for each interview.

How to cite this page

'Processing the interview', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/hands/processing-the-interview-a-guide-to-recording-oral-history, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 6-Mar-2015