The origin of questions in oral history interview

M. M. Abdollahzadeh
Translated by M. B. Khoshnevisan


More or less, we face with the request of introducing sample of questions for an interview and even more, some have done unsuccessful efforts to prepare a checklist of questions for an oral history interview. In this text, we deal briefly with this question what resource is the origin of questions in oral history and whether we can create a bank of questions for an interview in oral history? 


Research study

The study of resource can be a starting point for every oral history interviewer. We can find knowledge and recognition about the subject of the interview through studying the books produced in our area of interest directly or indirectly.

Mowlavi, the well-known Iranian poet says, "Both the question and answer originates from science." I think the master key to this discussion is this saying of Mowlavi, because when a person begins an interview in the area of oral history, he or she has decided to start a research project. In this phase, the individual has specified the subject or in other words the narrator and is intending to conduct an interview with the narrator about a special subject.

In order for the interviewer to succeed in the interview sessions and be able to complete his work, he or she should advance the current of the interview through posing orderly and targeted questions. This requires knowledge and recognition in that area the gaining of which depends on the study of the history and or examining of literature review. When we study about the interview subject of several works, we become familiar with the issues and problems of that area, and in general, gain the information which is somehow a general recognition and can be a key for us for a more precise and deeper recognition. We also become familiar with important events and incidents related to the considered subject. The purpose of the research study is to obtain a more accurate insight and a clearer understanding of the research subject and its angles.

We can search the related important items in references and documents of the used resources in those works. We can also benefit from scientific resources in order to clarify the necessary cases. We will also become familiar with the mistakes and shortcomings of the former research and will try in our efforts not to make those mistakes. We can take part in the critical sessions of the related works if possible or study the reports about the critical sessions in the considered area, because we can obtain the useful data which may not be possible to have access to them in other ways. Knowing about the shortcomings and misplacements of the works of others can be a guide for us in which we can take more steps carefully.

Another benefit of studying the background of research is that we obtain a correct recognition of the research gaps in that field and our questions in an interview will be designed in such a way as to add new materials to human knowledge in that field.

Scientific work is not an individual one and separate from the works of others in the considered field. Thus, when we want to conduct an interview in a special field, in addition to familiarizing with the produced works in that field, we’d be better get familiar with the individuals who have already worked in similar subjects. Consulting with a few persons who have worked in the considered field can cause new apertures of knowledge to be opened for us and we can easily use the experiences of others the obtaining of which has been costly. On the other hand, using other viewpoints in conducting an interview can prevent some of our mistakes.

We should study the books, articles and the interviews which have been chosen to study with a critical view. We must remember that skepticism is one of the norms of science. Skepticism means that we should not accept it simply because something is published. The validity of materials is very important in history. Oral history is very different from story, novel, and literature. Therefore, we must evaluate what we read in order to find out its validity.

The critical study needs the skills the obtaining of which requires practice and exercise. We should pay more attention to the introduction of the books while studying. If a principled introduction is written for a book, after studying, we discover what its purpose is, with what methods the researcher has done his or her activities, and how much time he or she has spent for interviewing and compiling, and more important than all, what his or her limitations have been in executing the project. 

In studying any book, we should also notice to its structure and how the materials have been arranged. Equal structures and similar organizations in oral history books can be tedious to some audiences. Other important things that we should keep in mind are the use of documents. The documents are the evidences that will give credence to the materials.


Formation of questions

By conducting proper and enough research study and its completion through a specific study on each topic or interviewee, each oral history researcher will come to a stage that will formulate his or her research questions using the proper recognition. Considering that the subject of each interview is different from other topics, and the interviewees are different in terms of biography, climate, experiences, responsibilities, roles, family, knowledge and skills, personality, and many other things, in general, the research questions for every interviewee will become different, while a number of questions will also become similar.

After making and organizing the general questions of a research, now it is time to make questionnaire minor questions. At this point, for answering every research question, several minor questionnaire questions are made. In the execution phase, these questions act as a guide for the interviewee and the interviewee modifies them according to the requirements of the interview process. For example, the interviewer may answer two or three questions in response to one question that as a result, the answered questions will be deleted. Or that he or she expresses new cases in the interview that the interviewer considers his or her content inadequate or ambiguous, and therefore guiding the interview process correctly by making new questions at the same time.     

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