Taking Meeting Minutes

How to Record Useful Meeting Minutes

Do your hands cramp up at the thought of recording meeting minutes? Do you question what information you should record and what you should leave out? You're not alone. Most of us have sat through a meeting madly scribbling what we thought were minutes only to find out later that we've missed essential information or that the notes were never used.

Why Meeting Minutes Matter

Don't give up, meeting minutes are important. They capture the essential information of a meeting's decisions and assigned actions. They keep attendees on track by reminding them of their role in a project and clearly define what happened in a group session. How many times have your colleagues been confused or in disagreement about what happened in a meeting? With minutes to refer to, everyone is clear. What most people don't know is that meeting minutes shouldn't be an exact recording of everything that happened during a session. Minutes are meant to record basic information such as the actions assigned and decisions made. Then, they can be saved and used for reference or background material for future meetings relating to the same topic. The following instructions will help you take useful and concise meeting minutes.

Before the Meeting

  • If you are recording the minutes, make sure you aren't a major participant in the meeting. You can't perform both tasks well. If you have to, be prepared! Study the issues to be discussed and have your questions ready ahead of time. If you have to concentrate on grasping the issues while you are making your notes, they won't make any sense to you later.
  • Prepare an outline based on the agenda ahead of time, and leave plenty of white space for notes. By having the topics already written down, you can jump right on to a new topic without pause. Include the following information:
    • Date and time of the meeting
    • The purpose of the meeting
    • The meeting lead or chair's name
    • List the expected attendees
    • Assigned action items and decisions made of previous meetings.
    • For formal and corporate meetings include approval of previous minutes, and all resolutions.
  • Before the meeting, gather as much information from the host as you can. Ask for a list of attendees, as well as some information on the purpose of the meeting. This way you won't need to scramble to understand what's going on while you're recording notes.
  • Use whatever recording method is comfortable for you, a notepad, a laptop computer, a tape recorder, a steno pad, or shorthand. It might be a good idea to make sound recordings of important meetings as a backup to your notes

During the Meeting

  • As people enter the room, check off their names on your attendee list. Or, you can pass around an attendance sheet for everyone to sign as the meeting starts.
  • Ask the meeting lead to introduce you to meeting attendees you aren't familiar with. This will be helpful later when you are recording assigned tasks or decisions. To be sure about who said what, you could make a map of the seating arrangement.
  • Don't make the mistake of recording every single comment. Concentrate on getting the gist of the discussion and taking enough notes to summarize it later. Think in terms of issues discussed, major points raised and decisions taken.
  • Record action items and decisions in your template as they happen don't wait until after the meeting to pull them out of your notes or you could make a mistake. If you don't understand exactly what decision has been made or what action has been assigned, ask the meeting lead to clarify.

After the Meeting

  • Don't wait too long to type up the minutes, especially while your memory is fresh.
  • Review the notes and add additional comments, or clarify what you didn't understand right after the meeting. Do this while the information is fresh in everyone's mind.
  • Type your notes out in the template you created before the meeting - this will make the notes easier for everyone to read and use.
  • Don't force yourself to write the minutes in the actual chronological order of the discussion - it may not work.
  • Focus on action items, not discussion. The purpose of minutes is to define decisions made and to record what actions are to be taken, by whom and when.
  • Be objective. Write in the same tense throughout and avoid using people's names except for motions or seconds. This is a business document, not about who said what. Avoid inflammatory or personal observations. The fewer adjectives or adverbs you use, the better. Dull writing is the key to appropriate minutes.
  • If you need to refer to other documents, attach them in an appendix or indicate where they may be found. Don't rewrite their intent or try to summarize them.
  • Be sure to have the minutes approved by the chair or facilitator before distributing them to the attendees.
  • Don't be intimidated by the prospect of taking minutes. Concise and coherent minutes are the mark of a professional. The very process of recording minutes can give you a deeper understanding of the issues faced by your organization along with ability to focus on what's important.

Recording meeting minutes ensures that the decisions and actions resulting from a meeting aren't lost or forgotten. By taking the time to record proper meeting notes you'll make sure the time and effort that goes into a meeting isn't wasted.

Example of Minutes Form

Name of Organization:
Purpose of Meeting:
Topic Discussion Action Person Responsible