Hand in Hand Productions

How to do an Oral History

Step 1 - Preparation: Acquiring necessary equipment and resources

Acquiring necessary equipment and resources is the first step in a successful project.

The purpose of oral history is to preserve the voice of the narrator. To do this sound quality is of critical importance. Remember it is necessary to hear both the narrator and interviewer voices clearly.

You will need:

  • Portable Cassette Recorder with AC electric cord, and batteries, jack for headphones, one touch recording, end of tape stop, record and battery indicator lights, volume control.
  • It is always strongly recommended to use an external microphone for audio or video recording. Very few built-in mics will give the necessary audio quality.
  • Quality standard audio tapes are used for their archival purposes. 60 minute or 90 minute "High Clarity" "High Bias" tapes. (120 minutes tapes are too thin for secure archiving.) All tapes should be exercised—wound and rewound before recording.
  • Headphones enable you to monitor your sound quality.
  • A transcription machine will make the transcribing process easier. A less expensive option is to purchase a foot pedal to plug into the tape recorder.

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Saint Paul, Minnesota

Acquire resources:

  1. A resource for doing oral history project developed by the Minnesota Historical Society Oral History Office is: Putting Together an Oral History Project: Overall Guidelines, (Copyright 2001) can be found at:

  2. The Minnesota Historical Society also has Transcription and Editing Guidelines that are a standard in the industry. They can be found at the Minnesota Historical Society web site at:

  3. The Chicago Manual of Style (Chicago University of Chicago Press, 2003, 15th Edition) is the authority used for editing oral history transcripts.

Next step: 2 - Initial meeting with narrator

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