Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Developing Questions and Conducting Interviews

The last blog post looked at ways you could find someone to interview for your History Day project and so hopefully some of you have interviews lined up!

Here are a few tips for developing your questions for the interview and for actually conducting the interview.

Developing Questions

  • Prepare ahead of time. Try to come up with at least 10 questions to ask.
  • Avoid asking yes/no questions. Try to ask more open ended questions that allows the interviewee to go into more detail.
  • Avoid leading questions. Leading question that suggests what you want the answer to be. For example, "Could you tell me how wonderful it was to grow up in Ohio?" Instead you want a more neutral question, such as "Could you please tell me about what it was like to grow up in Ohio?" 
  • Ask more detailed questions. The goal of your interview should not be for the interviewee to tell you everything they know about the topic and have them do work for you. Ask questions that will help your project and fill in gaps in your research.


If you are interviewing someone who witnessed or experienced an event in history, go beyond just the facts. Ask them questions about how they felt during/after event or how it impacted their lives. You can find facts lots of places, if you are lucky enough to interview someone who was there, make it more personal. This will lead to a more interesting interview.

If you are interviewing an expert on your topic, don't forget to ask context questions. Sometimes interviews with historians can be great to help you set the stage for your topic and understand the historical context and what influenced your topic in history. Experts are also great short and long term significance questions. They can provide their interpretations of the event and you can compare that other research you found to see if you agree with their interpretation.


Tips for Conducting the Interview 

  • Introduce yourself and thank the person for taking time out of their day to do the interview.
  • During the interview, let the person speak. Do not interrupt them when they are answering a question.
  • Be sure to give the person time to think after you ask a question. Sometimes it may take some time for them to recall the event or they are trying to decide how best to answer.
  • Make sure you are a good listener! Use non-verbal cues to show them you are paying attention, for example, eye contact or nodding your head. 
  • Ask follow up questions. Sometimes their answer will spark another question, ask them! Don't just skip to the next question because that was your plan. Interviews sometimes go new and exciting ways- let them! 
  • If they say something you do not understand, ask them to explain. Have them spell names and places you are unsure of.
  • Leave time at the end. Ask them if there is anything else they want to share. They might think of something important that you didn't even think of or know about. You can also ask them if they have any suggestions for you of where you can find more sources or do research.
  • Don't forget to thank them!

Good luck with your interviews!


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Finding Interviews for NHD

Yesterday Walnut Spring MS visited the Ohio History Center for a History Day field trip. Over 90 students analyzed primary sources, explored the museum, and learned about conducting interviews for NHD. Their teachers are requiring that every student interview at least one person as part of the their project.

Interviews are a fantastic resource for NHD. They can provide valuable information on your topic, fill in gaps of your research, and provide expert opinions on history.

A question I often get is: Are interviews primary sources? Sometimes, but not all of the time. Remember, primary sources are from the time period of your topic or created by someone who was there. So if you interview someone who witnessed, experienced, or lived through your topic in history, then the interview can count as a primary source. If you interview someone who is an expert, who has researched your topic, but did not live through it, for example, a college professor, then the interview is a secondary source.

How can you find someone to interview?
Colleges and Universities are great places to start. Look up the History Department website of a college near you. Usually they will have a listing of faculty members and many times will have a brief biography that tells you the professors' areas of expertise. Find a professor that teaches your topic and/or the time period you're studying and contact them.

Another suggestion is to try to track down the authors of the secondary source books you have read. If the book was published fairly recently, try searching the author's name on Google or another search engine to see if you can find contact information for them. We have even had students contact the publishing company of the book to track down an author.

Think about special interest groups that you might contact. If you are doing a military related topic, contact the VFW. Researching a topic on the Civil Rights Movement? Try contacting the NAACP branch in your city or state.

 Don't forget about museums as a possible place to find interviews! There are all types of museums out there where you could find experts to interview. is your project on Nazi Germany? You could always try to contact a museum in Germany through their website and conduct an interview via email or set a time to Skype with someone from the museum (of course you'd want to find someone who spoke English or maybe you speak German!).

One other suggestion would be members of your community. Are you doing a project on fire safety laws? Set up an interview with a local fireman. Is your topic on a Supreme Court case about the search and seizure amendment? Contact the police department to speak with someone.

There are so many great ways to find someone to interview and you don't have to stick to just one! Cast the net wide. Send emails or call a university professor, a museum curator, and an author. If they all respond, great! You'll get 3 wonderful interviews with 3 different perspectives. But the more people you try to contact, the better the chance you'll have of at least getting 1 interview.

I always encourage students to try contacting anyone they can think of. Even if you think, there is no way this person will ever call me back. You never know!!! We have had students interview Yoko Ono via email, the granddaughter of Huey Long, even Walter Mondale, former VP of the United States!

Don't rely on just email and be persistent. Obviously you will need to give someone a chance to respond but if you send an email and haven't heard back after a week, call them. I would try to contact a person at least 3 times before giving up.

Check with with the blog later and we'll give you tips for developing interview questions and conducting your interview.


Thursday, November 07, 2013

Conducting Research: Finding Online Sources

Hello History Dayers!

It's hard to believe that it is November already. Before you know it, it will be 2014 and district contests right around the corner! That means it's time to get down to serious research!

The internet is a wonderful thing. So much research is just a few clicks away. But remember, not everything you find online is good to use for NHD research. For History Day, you should be looking for scholarly websites to find information as well as primary sources.

The first thing you need to do is evaluate the websites you use. Who created it? Does it have good, reliable, scholarly information? You need to think critically about the websites you use and decide if you should trust it or not. Check out this page of Techniques to Apply and Questions to Ask when evaluating websites from UC Berkley Library.

When searching online (or at the library or archives actually), you want to brainstorm a list of all possible key terms that will help you find more information. If you are doing a project on Brown v. Board of Education, yes, you can search the title of the court case and find lots of good information. But you shouldn't stop there! Different search terms can lead you to new information or more variety of primary sources. Here are some additional key terms you could use:
 Thurgood Marshall, John Davis, Justice Warren (names of key people are always good to use!), NAACP, Plessy v. Ferguson, segregation, Jim Crow laws (these search terms will help you learn and find sources to illustrate the background and historical context), Supreme Court decisions, integration, Little Rock 9 (these last 2 might help you find sources to show the impact of the court case).

So now you have the chance to find more materials, tell different sides to the story, and find a wide variety primary sources. Check out the following websites for tips on brainstorming key terms: University of Delaware Library, Loyola University of Chicago Library, Drexel University Library.

A key tip for researching online is to use Boolean operators. These are ways to affect your search results in order to better find what you are looking for and what will help with your research. Many of us know that by putting "  " around a term the results will only include that exact phrase or term but there are so many more ways to limit your search. If you use Google, here is a site that will help you use boolean operators with Google (many also work with other search engines).




Don't forget to keep track of where you get your information! It is very common for students to conduct online research and forget to write down what website the quote, photograph, or other information came from. Then when it's time to write your bibliography it can be a struggle to go find the websites you used. So save your self time and keep track of your sites as you go along.

Check out last year's blog post about online research. It contains more tips for online research as well as an important note about when sources found online can be considered primary.

Good luck and keep on researching!!