Designing an Oral History Project

Notes on Interviewing

Tape Label (example)

Field Notes (example)

Tape Index (example) (pdf)

Transcriber's Guidelines

Budget, Equipment, Materials for an Oral History Project

Equipment Currently Used by the SOHP

Transcript (example) (pdf)

Technical guidelines for Tape Recorded Interviews

Ten Tips for Interviewers
Selected Bibliography and Web Resources

SOHP Home > How To > SOHP Guide > Technical Guidelines for Tape Recorded Interviews

Technical Guidelines for Tape Recorded Interviews

The Recorder
Use only high quality recording equipment. Inexpensive pocket-type cassette tape recorders are not designed for scholarly interviews and should be avoided. Consult with the archive where you plan to deposit your interviews for recommendations on what type of equipment they support.

Use only the highest quality brand name tapes; once a brand of tape is selected, it should not be changed. While normal bias tapes are adequate for recording the spoken word, top-of-the-line high bias tapes like Maxell XLII will produce clearer recordings. Such recordings will make clearer copies, thus extending the potential range of future uses of the tape-in radio broadcasts, movie or slide show soundtracks, or classroom and other public presentations. Use either 60- or 90-minute tapes. Never use 120-minute tapes because the tape is too thin for quality recordings, tends to malfunction, and has a shorter archival life.

Machine Settings
Never record with a cassette recorder with automatic volume control on the maximum position. Generally leave the volume control in a mid-range setting. Anything higher will only increase background noise. Some machines are more sensitive than others and as a result one must experiment to find the optimum volume position. While conducting the interview, you should periodically glance at the VU meter to make certain the recording levels are sufficiently high.

Microphone Procedure
An external microphone should always be used because it reduces background noise substantially and also gives the interviewer control of mike direction. If a unidirectional microphone is used, place the mike stand equidistant between the interviewer and interviewee and point the mike at the interviewee. If no mike stand is available, the microphone should be placed on a pillow or other cushioning object rather than directly on a table or hard surface. The best quality microphone should be used; any condenser mike is superior to those that come as standard equipment on cassette machines.

Power Source
To avoid problems with electrical current or accessing a power source, we recommend using batteries to record an interview.

The Southern Oral History Program
(a component of the UNC Center for the Study of the American South)
CB#9127, 406 Hamilton Hall
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-9127
(919) 962-0455