Oral History Training

The Act of Ending in Interview Types

Adjusted by Golestan Jafarian
Translated by Ruhollah Golmoradi


Just as a good start is one of the most important parts in oral history interview, how to finish the interview is also a formative and decisive one. Most of considerations and remarks about "good act of ending" is relevant in "serial interviews". A serial interview means an interview with a narrator during several follow-up sessions. The narrator, for example, recounts his memories completely for the interviewer during several meetings. In this type of interview, the act of ending questions for each session is a technique and expertise.

On the contrary, there are single-session interviews. This means that the narrator is supposed to recount sum of his memories about a particular person or a specific subject during one meeting. Here, the interviewer is allowed to continue the interview until the narrator's conversations about the person or subject in question, even if the interview time lasts a little more than usual. " Don't you have anything to talk about...?" could be the interviewer's final question in this type of conversation.


When do we finish the interview?

Age and physical conditions of narrator are the most important factors in determining duration of the interview. It is advisable for the interviewer to have simple and general information about the narrator's physical condition before the interview begins and at the initial stage of understanding.[1] [1] Sometimes older people have physical limitations that may not be imaginable for a young interviewer; for example, people over the age of 70, especially men, have frequent urination; such a person can, at the maximum, sit in one place for 90 minutes, so if the interviewer does not pay attention to this issue, after an hour and a half, the narrator may be pressured, his/her memory does not work properly, and give superficial answers to questions.  

In general, it can be said that from 90 to 120 minutes after start of a dialogue, it is time to finish it; because 90 minutes is threshold of an adult's tolerance for sitting in one place. After this time, there may be spinal pain and the body becomes tired. Here, the interviewer must finish the conversation as soon as he/she sees the narrator being impatient and talks around.


How do we deal an excited narrator?

Sometimes near the end (e.g., at the minute of 90), the interviewer feels the narrator has become enthusiastic and perhaps answers two other questions with motivation and carefully. But on the other hand, she/he knows that the issue is not just these two questions, there are still many questions about the narrator's life and it is supposed the next interview will be held in a short distance. In such a situation, it is better for the interviewer to act according to the formula and recommendation of Islam in eating: just as a few morsels left to satiate should stop eating, here it is also better for the interviewer to finish the conversation; like ending episodes of a TV series. In the series, usually the director, in the nick of time, when the excited viewer wants to know what happens next, interrupts the series and refers the audience to the next episode so that he remains enthusiastic and inquisitive.

For example, it is now near the adhan of Maghreb, and you know the narrator wants to go to prayer, so end of the interview time will be the adhan of Maghreb. In such a situation, you ask an interesting question and the narrator enthusiastically says, "This is very interesting, and it has a long story," here you should act like an artist and say, "so the answer to that question is given in the next meeting. The next session, we begin with this question.” So, the narrator keeps his word in mind, thinks about the details, and the next session tells it fully. While, if he/she wants to deal with the matter in that short period of time before the adhan, may be his/her talk remains unfinished or important details remains unsaid and disappear.[2]


Related Topics:

Early knowledge, before the beginning

Ethics in Interviewing

Characterization in Oral History

"Using Photos in Interviews and Memory Books"

Guiding the interview process toward the main direction and in line with final goal


[1] For more information on the early stage of cognition, see the article "Early knowledge, before the beginning".

[2] From the workshop on oral history training taught by of Mohammad Ghasemipour in Tabriz, November 2017.

Number of Visits: 1372