How To Document Your Recordings

How To Document Your Recordings

Because oral history is, in part, an archival practice, it is critical that recordings be documented. I strongly recommend that researchers build procedures for themselves that will allow them to keep intellectual control over the records they produce. Below is an outline of what I ask my students to create for each recording.

Informed Consent Forms

Each recording packet must contain a signed informed consent form.

Deed of Gift

If the interviewee has agreed to donate the recordings, please include a deed of gift.

Field Notes

Field notes should be completed for each of your interviews and submitted as part of a completed interview packet.

Field Notes should contain the following items:

Date notes are compiled

Interviewee Name


Interview Date


Interviewee Biography (1 paragraph)

Interviewer Biography (1 para about yourself)

Description of the interview circumstances

Add anything that will help you (and any other user of the interview) later make sense of what you have recorded. Like a diary, this journal will contain a record of experiences, ideas, fears, mistakes, confusions, breakthroughs, and problems that arise during fieldwork. A journal represents the personal side of fieldwork; it includes reactions to informants and the feelings you sense from others.  Rereading these notes at a later time will show how quickly you forget what occurred during the first days and weeks of fieldwork. Months later, when you begin to write up the study, the journal becomes an important source of data. Doing fieldwork differs from many other kinds of research in that the field worker becomes a major research instrument. Making an introspective record of fieldwork enables a person to take into account personal biases and feelings, and to understand their influence on the research.

(Adapted/stolen from James P. Spradley, The Ethnographic Interview (Wadsworth Group/Thomson Learning; Belmont California, 1979), p. 76.)

Interview content (What did you talk about, in narrative form?)


File Name/File Label

Each recording must be properly labeled. I can’t stress this enough.

The recording itself MUST have on it a label with:

  1. Your name
  2. The interviewee’s name
  3. The date on which the interview was conducted
  4. The project name
  5. The interview number. By this, I mean that if this is the first interview you do for this project, this is interview 1. If it is the second interview, it is interview 2.
  6. You should also indicate if the interview broken up in to more than one file – as in file 1 of 4, file 2 of 4, etc.

These items are absolutely essential, as they help you keep track of your interviews and recordings.

A proper file name might look like this:

Napoli-Jones   010506   immigration project interview #1, file 1 of 3


ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS MAKE COPIES OF YOUR RECORDINGS. Never let an original recording out of your possession. Never keep all your recordings in one place. Never edit your original recording.

Have a separate flash drive for backup, or upload them to your Google drive, or SOMETHING. Hard drives are a temporary storage medium. They die.

Interview Log

An interview log is a record of whom you interviewed, their contact information, when the interview took place and other relevant administrative information. An interview log might look like this:

Interviewee name Interview number Date Contact information Informed consent statement signed? Deed of gift signed? Transcript prepared Recordings duplicated
Tom Jones 1 01/01/06 Xxx someplace way, yes no No Yes, to cassette backup and to CD