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Oral History Interview
Individual Story Assignment
Much of your work in the oral history project so far has been done as a team. For this
assignment, you will be working on your own to write an essay that focuses on the
unique experiences of the person your team interviewed.
In this assignment, we will be using the term “story” in several ways. So please think
about this. A “story” can be:
- a tale of what happened in some particular circumstances (the everyday sense)
- a meaningful account of someone’s life seen as a whole (the biographical sense)
- a piece of work created to share through the media (the journalistic sense)
In doing your interviews, you asked people to tell you stories – in the everyday sense.
Specific, personal stories or anecdotes are easy to listen to. For that reason, they are
often the most compelling parts of a radio documentary. These kinds of stories help us
make important points about the larger themes, such as what compels people to serve in
the military and what it feels like to return to the civilian world afterward.
By listening to these stories and to your interviewee’s responses to your questions, you
gradually got a better sense of “his/her story,” in the biographical sense. You better
understand who this person is and what his or her life experience has been. You begin to
see his or her life as a whole.
Now, working very much like journalists at WILL and other media organizations do,
you are going to write a story, in the journalistic sense. You are going to create your
own piece of work, based on carefully collected evidence (from your interview and
background research). Your story will prominently feature the voice and perspective of
your interviewee, but this person’s experience will be put into a broader context by what
you write and how you choose to present it. Your story will of course be shared with a
broader audience. This audience will begin with your classmates and teachers, but will
eventually include your interviewee, and perhaps even wider audiences at WILL and
beyond. So craft your story carefully!
Your story should focus on particular aspects of what makes your interviewee’s life
meaningful to him or her, and of interest to us for our project. Your story is not fiction;
it should reflect the reality of a specific human being’s life, as you understand it.
Your essay should also help your audience better understand the broader issues of our
project: how the military as an institution has evolved over time, in relation to specific
conflicts; what obstacles and opportunities for growth individuals have encountered
through their military service; and what has made it relatively easy or hard for veterans to
reintegrate into civilian society after their service. In this sense, your individual essay
will represent one piece of the larger story that our oral history project seeks to tell.
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To prepare for writing your essay, you are going to be producing several documents to help
you organize your material and your ideas. Follow the directions given for each step. Pay
close attention to how each document is to be formatted and named. This will make your job
much easier and will help you write a thoughtful and convincing essay.
Here is the first document you must create:
1. BIO To start, you need to put together in writing some basic biographical
information about your interviewee: his or her year and place of birth, family background,
the places where s/he grew up, was educated, worked, served in the military (if applicable)
and where s/he has lived as an adult. If s/he served in the armed forces, a brief summary of
his/her service should be provided. If your interviewee did not serve directly in the armed
forces, then please provide the relevant details about his/her alternative service or about the
person who did serve. If your interviewee was involved in any major military conflict or
lived through other important episodes in national history, those facts may also be relevant.
You may want to refresh your memory by looking again at your copy of the interviewee bio
form and the timelines that you made when preparing for your interview. You will decide
what aspects of this biographical information anyone reading your story would need to know
in order to better understand who this person is. Remember to provide adequate details about
the context – the date and place of each occurrence.
You might find it helpful to read a few bios written by Uni students for the oral history
projects on other topics done in previous years (see samples provided in class).
You will then write a one-paragraph summary that states in your own words what we need
to know about this person (to understand the essay that you are going to write). A good
paragraph will be 8 – 10 sentences long and will include relevant dates, places and details.
It must be typed, double-spaced in Times New Roman 12-point font.
At the top of the page, type your name, the interviewee’s name, and “biographical sketch.”
Save this paragraph as a separate document. Name it:
[Interviewee’sLastName]BIO[yourLastName]. For example:
Thurs. Feb. 16 first draft of your BIO – bring two copies to class for feedback
Tues. Feb. 28 revised version of your BIO is due in class – this version will be
graded and counts towards your average for the 3rd quarter
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2. PRIMARY SOURCE EVIDENCE You now need to re-read the full transcript of
your team’s interview. Your objective is to identify 5-7 passages from the entire
interview that you find most compelling (i.e., most interesting, enlightening, eye-opening,
moving, funny, sad, etc.). Some of these passages may be stories about a particular
experience or time in the interviewee’s life. Some may be descriptions of things the
interviewee has observed. All of these passages should stand out as the most important
parts of the interview.
You are looking for the passages in the interview that you find to be the best
evidence of who this person is, and that show how his/her personal experiences are
related to the history of the U.S. military and the treatment of veterans in American
society over time. You will use these passages as the basis for the story that you create.
Once you identify these passages, you need to copy and paste them from the interview
transcript into a new document. This is your “primary source evidence.”
At the top of the first page, type your name, the interviewee’s name, and “primary
source evidence.” Then you will give the chosen passages, as a series of “segments”
from your interview. See the sample given on the next page. Keep in mind:
- Include the time and the question, to help locate the chosen passage within
- Use this symbol (…) to show places where you have intentionally omitted part
of the interviewee’s answer, in narrowing down your passage.
- Use brackets [ ] if you need to fill in information that would be understood if the
whole interview had been heard.
- Use boldface to emphasize the part of the passage that you find most interesting
or most important to understand the story or comment.
Once you have identified 5-7 important passages and copied them in this way into a new
document, they constitute the main “primary source evidence” that you will use in
writing your story.
When you save this document on your computer, name it as follows:
For example, Justin Wang’s team interviewed Chad Garland, so he would name his document:
GarlandPRIMEVIDJustin. (His teammate Carter would name hers: GarlandPRIMEVIDCarter.)
When you have finished this document, check over it carefully. Then print a copy and
turn it in to Ms. Morford.
Due date: See your team’s calendar.
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3. CHART: The next step is to make a chart that summarizes the topics and the timeframe
of the interview passages you chose for your “primary source evidence.” Making this chart will
help you organize your narrative and figure out what parts of the broader context you will need
to bring in to your story.
Look back at each of the passages you chose. For each passage, figure out and write down:
a) what this passage is about (summarize it, using your own words)
b) what part of the interviewee’s life this passage relates to and therefore what calendar
year(s) it covers (you may have to re-read other parts of the transcript, your biographical
information or timelines to figure this out)
Then rearrange the passages so that they are in chronological order, from earliest to most recent.
Some passages may refer to a specific experience at a particular time. Others may cover a
broader period. It’s up to you to figure out what part of the interviewee’s life each one relates to,
and to put them in chronological order. Then you should re-number the passages, and make a
chart with all of this information, such as the samples shown below and on the next page.
When you have finished this document, check it over carefully. Then print a copy and
turn it in to Ms. Morford.
Due date: See your team’s calendar.
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4. THINK, RE-READ, BRAINSTORM:
In order to turn these passages into a coherent story, you will need to think further about how
they relate to things happening on a broader scale. Start by re-reading the two-page description
of our oral history project (see the class wiki if you have lost your copy). Then read over the two
timelines that your team made when preparing for your interview. Pay special attention to the
second timeline (broader events). Think about how your interviewee is connected not only to
any specific war(s), but also to changes in the military over time. Think especially about
whether people were drafted or enlisted, who could serve and in what capacities, what kinds of
challenges were encountered in specific deployments or areas of service. You are thinking about
these things because your job, as a writer, is to figure out what information will be helpful for
putting the interview passages you have chosen into a broader historical context.
For example, would it be appropriate to remind your audience of specific milestones in the ways
that African-Americans, women, or gays and lesbians were treated within the military? Will you
need to recall when and why the U.S. became involved in specific conflicts or wars? Should you
address changes in the draft or in benefits offered to veterans? Would it be helpful to explain the
dangers of IEDs or the prevalence of particular kinds of injuries, such as PTSD or TBIs? The
broader context that is relevant depends on your interviewee’s experiences; it also depends on
the story that you want to tell in your essay.
The next step is to brainstorm on paper: write down all the ideas you have about the broader
developments that may need to be taken into account in order to understand your interviewee’s
experiences. For each passage of the interview that you plan to use, try to come up with at least
one or two (or perhaps more) possibly relevant aspects of the broader context. You may not
have all the facts straight, but start by getting your ideas down. Using the chart you prepared in
step 3 to ensure that you think about what is relevant to each chosen interview passage, you
might organize your brainstorming ideas in the form of a second chart, as this student did:
Regardless of how you choose to record your brainstorming, you are strongly encouraged to
share it with Ms Morford before proceeding to the next step.
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5. SECONDARY SOURCE EVIDENCE (bib + notecards):
This is the information that comes from sources other than your interview: published PRINT
sources (books, journal articles, etc.) as well as reliable audiovisual and web sources (including
documentary films, websites, and other materials on line). This information tells us about the
broader conditions in which your interviewee (or family members) lived and served, and about
events and developments that impacted not just your interviewee but many other people as well.
You are compiling this information before you write, so that it will be easier to connect your
interviewee’s experiences to broader developments and to document what you say about the
context in which your interviewee has served or lived.
As you collect this information from secondary sources, you must create:
- a bibliography of all sources (including your interview)
- source-referenced notecards
I recommend that you use NoodleBib, to ensure that you do this correctly. Remember that for
your essay, as for all formal writing assignments in this class, you are expected to cite all sources
according to current MLA guidelines.
Minimum requirements regarding sources and notecards for this assignment are as follows:
- a bibliography of at least five (5) reliable sources, including:
- your team's interview
- at least one print secondary source
- at least three secondary sources with identified authors (may be print or web)
- for each of four secondary sources, at least three (3) complete notecards, including:
- direct quotation (with page number for print sources)
- paraphrase of passage quoted
- your ideas/questions
You may of course have more than 5 sources and more than 12 complete source-referenced
notecards for secondary sources, as long as you meet these minimal requirements. Wikipedia
articles may be used as starting points for exploration, but will not count towards your required
number of sources. However, if you use Wikipedia articles, you must still cite them.
How to create your "secondary source evidence:"
- Start with the readings, notes, and other materials that we studied together in class, as well as
any reliable secondary sources that your team identified when you were preparing for your
interview and making your team visual. Re-read these materials carefully.
- You may also need to find new sources about the topics that are relevant to your essay. If you
need to find additional sources of information, the library is yours to use! Remember to consult
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reference materials, to use online databases and specialized search engines (like "Sweet Search")
and to follow the research guidelines put on the class wiki by our wonderful librarians.
- As you identify useful sources, enter all the necessary information into NoodleBib:
1. Create a "new project" on NoodleBib. NAME it as follows, so that when you "share"
it with me, I will immediately know what it is:
[Interviewee'sLastName] ISA-SSE [Your first name]
for example: Crawford ISA-SSE Gus
Hamblin ISA-SSE Beth
2. Complete the bibliographic reference for each source first.
3. Then take careful and detailed notes in the "notecard" section.
Remember to complete all three fields: direct quotation, paraphrase and
For print sources, RECORD the relevant PAGE NUMBER on each notecard!
You may also find it helpful to use the "tag" function to keep track of which notecards
relate to specific aspects of the broader context.
How many notecards will you need? Beyond the minimum requirements spelled out above, it
really depends on what you are trying to show in your essay. You need enough to support your
Look back at the charts that you made in steps 3 and 4. For each interview passage that you plan
to include in your essay, you should have at least two or three meaningful points to make about
the aspect(s) of the broader context that you identified as relevant to that part of the interviewee's
experiences or observations. To make those points convincingly, you may need to use more than
one source and to cite more than one passage from each source.
If you are having a hard time envisioning how you will connect your interviewee's experiences to
developments happening on a broader scale, look again at some of the samples of ISAs written
by Uni students for past projects. Pay attention to how successful writers weave together the
primary and the secondary source evidence. Then think about how you could do likewise with
the information that is relevant to your interviewee's experiences.
Due dates: see your team’s calendar. To submit this part of the assignment:
- Share your project (bib + notecards) with Ms Morford on NoodleBib by the stated due date.
At this point, you should have met the minimum requirements in terms of sources and notecards.
- If you do not use NoodleBib, you must print and turn in a copy of your typed secondary source
evidence (bib + notecards) to Ms Morford by the due date.
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6. OUTLINE: This is where you organize the pieces of your story, paragraph by paragraph.
You should have one Roman numeral for each paragraph. Put the lines with Roman numerals
in bold, to make them easy to see. Use capital letters (A, B, C…), numbers (1, 2, 3…) and
lower-case letters (a, b, c…) to organize the points, examples or pieces of evidence that you will
use within each paragraph.
- Think about a “grabber” or a good way to engage your readers’ attention from the
beginning of your story. You may find it helpful to re-read some of the ISAs from past
oral history projects, to see what kinds of introductions are effective.
- Refer to the interview passages by their number in the chart you made in step 3.
- Indicate also where you will include relevant information about the broader context. Be
as specific as possible in deciding what information needs to go where in your essay.
Your outline should easily fit on one sheet of paper (you may use the back, if necessary). The
outline must be typed (single-spaced) and formatted for easy reading.
See the sample outline on the next page.
You may want to use the "outline" function on NoodleBib to prepare it. Or you can just create it
as a separate document. Either way, be sure your outline has a proper heading. Keep in mind
that you will need to print a copy to turn it in to Ms Morford.
Due dates: see your team’s calendar.
If you find it excruciatingly difficult to make an outline before you write, talk with Ms Morford.
For some writers, it may be easier to come up with an outline after you have begun writing.
However, by the time the first complete draft of the essay is due, all students must provide a
detailed outline prepared according to these instructions.
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7. FIRST FULL DRAFT OF YOUR STORY:
Like all essays, your story should be typed, double-spaced. The body of your essay should be
between four and five pages. As always, you must properly cite the secondary sources you use.
You may do this in one of two ways:
a) use parenthetical in-text citations, in MLA format
b) cite your sources using footnotes, which appear at the bottom of each page
Examples of essays that use each of these methods have been provided. Please remember: you
are to use MLA, not APA, format for this assignment. Also, whether you cite your sources
parenthetically or via footnotes, you must include a list of works cited at the end of your essay.
Including passages from your interview in your story: You are expected to use your team’s
interview as the basis for much of what you say in this essay. When you are quoting a short
phrase from the interview, you can do this in the body of the text. For example, you could write:
For Joe Miller, enlisting in the Navy was “an important turning point.”
Here, you put between quotation marks only the words that you took from your interviewee’s
own language. Since you are quoting frequently from the interview that you conducted, as long
as you give the full information about the interview in your works cited list, you do not need to
formally cite the interview (parenthetically or with a footnote) each time you quote from it.
When you want to include a longer passage from the interview (more than one sentence), then
you must use block quoting. This is how to do block quoting:
Indent and type single-spaced. Be sure there is a space between the body of your
essay and the block quote, on each end. This will show that the indented text comes
from the interview, and is not your own language. If your story were being
played on the radio, these are the parts that would be in the interviewee’s own
voice. Note that with block quoting, you do NOT use quotation marks at the
beginning and end of the passage. However, if the passage includes quoted
speech, then you will use quotation marks in the text, just as you did in your
transcript of the interview. You do not need to use ellipses (…) at the
beginning or end of a block quote; use them only if you omit part from
the middle of the passage. Notice how the left side of the block quote is
consistently indented. The right margin is NOT justified, but it is visibly
shorter than the right margin of the body of the text.
Remember that interview passages do not “speak for themselves.” Instead, each time that you
include an extended passage from the interview, be sure you connect it to the points you are
making. There should be a natural movement back and forth between the voice of your
interviewee and your own voice as the narrator of the story. See the examples made available in
class, if you are unsure how to do this.
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Be sure to include your bibliography from NoodleBib in the first draft of your essay, putting it
at the end, under the heading "Works Cited." You may find it easiest to copy the bibliography
while you are in NoodleBib, create a new Word document, format it correctly, and then copy and
paste the list of works cited into your essay. (If you want to include a separate category of
"Works Consulted" -- for items you read but did not cite -- that is fine, but not necessary.)
When you think you have a complete first draft of your story, set it aside for a while. Then come
back to the draft with fresh eyes and check to see that it includes everything it should:
- a proper heading and an appropriate title for the essay (see MLA guidelines)
- page numbers
- a good introductory paragraph with an effective grabber
- adequate information about the interviewee and the relevant context
- block quoting for extensive passages from the interview
- proper secondary source citations (using MLA guidelines)
- a thoughtful conclusion (not a crash landing or a mere reiteration of points already made)
- a complete works cited list
After you are sure that all the parts are there, double-check the format of different parts:
spacing of text (double-spaced, except for within block quotes from interview)
margins of text and block quotes, indentation of paragraphs
format of secondary source citations (in-text or in footnotes)
- end punctuation goes AFTER source citation parentheses
- footnote numbers are sequential throughout the essay and are in superscript
format of works cited list
When it is complete, your first draft will be read by two reviewers: a peer editor and Ms
Morford. Be sure to print two copies of the essay before you come to class. (Check to see that
all pages are included and that each copy is correctly assembled and stapled.)
Due dates: see your team’s calendar.
8. PEER EDITING and REVISION:
You will be asked to serve as peer editor for the story written by one of your classmates. Follow
the guidelines given, and have your response ready on the date indicated by Ms Morford in class.
When you have received comments on your first draft from your peer editor and Ms Morford,
read them carefully. If anything is unclear, ask for clarification. Then make your revisions.
Keep both “edited” copies – the one marked by your peer editor and the one with comments
from Ms. Morford. You will need to turn in both edited copies along with your final version.
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9. FINAL VERSION OF YOUR STORY and SUPPORTING MATERIALS:
The final version of your story should be something you are proud to show to your interviewee.
Check it very carefully. Be sure you are using appropriate language and are not excluding any
potential readers by unthinkingly using “we/they” language, as discussed in class.
When you turn in your final version of the story, you need to submit a print copy of all of the
supporting materials, as listed below. Each document should be stapled separately, and the
whole set of documents should be attached with a paper clip.
On top is the final version of your story. Then the supporting materials follow, in this order:
- teacher-read version
- peer-edited version
- biographical sketch
- primary source evidence
- secondary source evidence (bib + notecards) -- must be printed from NoodleBib
Due dates: see your team’s calendar.