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SOC 3310 Life History Interview Assignment

This guide supports Professor Miller's SOC 3310 Intercultural Communication course and the final project of a life history interview.

Your Assignment

Life History Interview

Assignment Description: Your subject should be somebody who has experienced living in two cultures, for example an immigrant, refugee, expatriate, or foreign visitor. Look for someone in your network of friends and family, or in your neighborhood or place of work, who might be receptive to you. You do not need to know them well. Ask them whether they agree to be interviewed and recorded for this project. If your subject agrees to be interviewed but not recorded, you will need to take extensive notes during the interview. If you are conducting the interview in a language other than English, you will need to translate the portion that you transcribe and analyze. They can remain anonymous if they wish.

Meet your subject at a time and place that is convenient for them. Be a good guest/host, a good listener, and a sympathetic interlocutor. Have a list of questions, but don’t feel you have to stick to it. As soon as possible following the session, write down the most important points and your general impressions. This will help you in the write-up stage.

Listen back to the whole interview at least once. As you do, note the timer markings of the most important passages in the recording timeline, and listen to those particular passages repeatedly. Select a passage (about 3-4 pages) for a word-for-word transcription, of which 2 pages will be a narrow transcription marked with symbols used in CA analysis.

Summary & Analysis section should include: 

  • Name (or pseudonym), basic profile, how you know the subject, where you conducted the interview, language of interview, type of recording (audio, video, notes)
  • Your overall impression including age, gender, cultural background, speech communities, personality, demeanor, presentation of self,  body language, openness or reluctance, manner of speech, philosophical outlook
  • Summary of life story, with an emphasis on bicultural experiences


  • A total of 8-10 pages of which
    • 4-5 pages are your summary and analysis,
    • and 4-5 pages are transcription or translation (includes 2 pages of narrow CA transcription)

The content in this LibGuide will help you learn how to:

  • Search the library catalog for background research and books on oral and life history interviewing. 
  • Search the databases for background research.
  •  Conduct primary research.
  • Prepare to interview.

Getting Started

With your interview subject in mind, do some background research using the library catalog on the Find Books page and suggested databases on the Find Articles page. Research where they were born or where they grew up, events you want to ask them about, their culture, etc. 

Using what you learned in your background research, start developing questions you'd like to ask your interviewee. Is there a theme you'd like to focus on for the interview? Think of this step as you would when you are preparing for a research paper. You can't write about everything about a topic, but have to focus on an area which interests you. Much the same way, you won't have time to learn everything about your subject's life, but you can focus your questions around a specific theme.

Use the Additional Resources page for tips, best practices, and tutorials for preparing for a life history interview. Practice asking your planned questions, and prepare for the ways in which you may have to change questions during the interview. 

Primary versus Secondary Research

You have all done secondary research in your classes before, or finding information that already exists and synthesizing it into a new argument for your papers or presentations. Primary research, like conducting an interview, involves finding new information that someone has not collected before. The research process for both involves similar steps:

Primary Research Secondary Research
Select interview subject based on assignment parameters. Select research topic based on assignment parameters.
Conduct background research. Conduct background research.
Select a theme, subject, event, etc. that is specific to your subject that you want to focus on.  Narrow your broad research topic into something specific. 
Develop questions, tailoring them to your interviewee and the subject you want to focus on. Develop keywords and a search strategy for finding information.
Modify your questions and ask follow-up questions as your subject answers you. This happens in-the-moment and requires quick thinking.  Revise your keywords and search strategy based on the results you get. Do this as many times as it takes to find all the relevant information you need. 
Analyze results (transcript). Analyze results (articles).