Sample Questions

Questions on living in the age of COVID-19:

  • What things have been on your mind throughout the crisis?
  • What’s your typical day look like now?
  • When you first started hearing about COVID-19, what were your feelings (worried, unconcerned, etc)? Did that initial impression change as time passed – if so, what triggered the change?

Borrowed or adapted from StoryCorps:

  • How has living through this experience made you feel?
  • What have been some of the most challenging parts of this experience?
  • How is this experience different from other historical events you’ve lived through?
  • Is this experience similar to any historical events you’ve lived through? If so, which ones, and how?
  • What is the biggest way your life has changed during this pandemic?
  • Has this experience changed you in any way? If so, how?

Questions about broader lives:

Borrowed or adapted from UCLA:

  • Start by asking when and where your interviewee was born. Then, ask a general question, such as “Tell me about your parents” or “Tell me about your family background.”  
  • Could you tell me about the community you grew up in and your neighborhood? What was it like? 
  • What was school like for you? What did you like about it? What was hard about it? Memories about favorite teachers or subjects? Friends? Activities?
  • How did you meet your spouse/significant other? What drew you together? 
  • Tell me about the different jobs you’ve had over the years. Ask for specifics about the positions held and what they did. What were the best things about that job? The most stressful things or most challenging things? 
  • I’d like to know about your experiences as a parent. What was the most satisfying thing about raising children? The most difficult? What values did you try to raise your children with? How did you go about doing that?

Interview Tips

  • At the beginning of the interview, state the date, the name of the interviewer and interviewee, each person’s location, and if relevant, the connection between the interviewer and interviewee (e.g., “I am interviewing my grandmother”).
  • Jot down some questions in advance, so that you are prepared.
  • But…feel free to go off script! If your interviewees take you in a different direction, let them tell their stories. Sometimes you can end up hearing about fascinating things you wouldn’t have known to ask about. 
  • Ask open-ended questions (i.e., questions that begin with “why, how, where, what kind of,” etc.). Generally avoid leading questions (i.e., questions that require a “yes” or “no” answer). Ask follow-up questions to get your interviewee to provide more details.
  • One of the most important things to do as an interviewer is to let the other person talk! Don’t feel like you have to fill empty spaces. Give your interviewees a chance to tell their stories. The focus should be on the interviewee!

Example of Oral History Projects

Historic Saranac Lake Oral History Project

Stories of Colorado: Social Distancing Diaries

StoryCorps Connect