A timeline helps interviewees recall and report events


A guide on using timelines to help recall by interviewees

Based on research by CREST member Professor Lorraine Hope (Portsmouth) we have written a guide outlining The Timeline Technique. This technique can be used by interviewers to help interviewees by giving them an intuitive way of organising their recall and reporting, which makes it easier to organise their thoughts and reduces demands on working memory.

We use our ‘working memory’ to temporarily store and manage the information required to carry out complex cognitive tasks such as reasoning, decision-making, and organising recalled information. Working memory has a limited capacity and can easily become overloaded. Recalling details about complex events that happened over a period of time is difficult for most people because it places a lot of demands on this working memory.

Compared to a ‘free recall’ technique (e.g., “tell me everything you can remember about the events”), The Timeline Technique:

  • is easier for the interviewee because it supports the remembering process
  • typically yields more detail about descriptions of people, actions they took, sequences, and verbatim quotes
  • enables the interviewer to access a detailed initial understanding of the interviewee’s experiences over the relevant time period.

You can download the guide here: 16-002-01.pdf.
The guide will take five minutes to read.

If you are interested in reading some of the research behind the guide, please see this paper.