Tips on good minute taking

As we all know writing minutes is a basic skill for assistants

As we all know writing minutes is a basic skill for assistants and we have probably written more over the years than Stephen King has writing novels. I had a job a few years back that provided support for twelve Committees who had four meetings a year, which meant I was writing a set of minutes practically every week. As you can imagine I got quite good at bashing out minutes without much thought behind them but no matter how easy I found writing the minutes the process still took forever. I soon realised that thought was required to write a good and comprehensive set of minutes and just typing out what I had written down wasn’t going to make what I considered a painful task any less arduous. So for all of you that write minutes, don’t enjoy it and take forever to complete them here are 10 handy tips to get them finished, circulated and out of your to do tray as quickly as possible while still producing a quality piece of work:

1. Remember that minutes should capture the three points below – nothing more nothing less:

  • What was decided
  • What was accomplished
  • What was agreed and actions for the attendees

2. The format for your minutes should be consistent and ideally you should be working from one template. If your company does not have a branded template you should suggest this to your manager and design something for them, a simple word template with the following  information will suffice:

  • The name of the Committee meeting
  • The date, time and location of the meeting
  • The attendees
  • The apologies
  • The name of the minute taker
  • Each of the agenda items underlined and listed with details on what was decided, what was accomplished and the action points to take forward (with the initials of the person responsible for the action).
  • Any other business
  • The date of the next meeting

3. Although the temptation is to leave typing up your minutes to literally the last minute I wouldn’t recommend it. Try and get the notes typed up as soon as possible, ideally by the following day. Even if you have become an expert at drafting minutes you may still find that you forget certain parts of the meeting and / or you can’t quite decipher what you meant when you made the notes. Also if you get the minutes circulated quickly you will give those with actions an early reminder to complete their work, which saves you time chasing them when the next meeting rolls around.

4. As I said in point 1, there are only three main areas of the conversation that you have to capture in your minutes so try to avoid all of the chat and ‘he said, she said’ dialogue. Unless it is relevant to the key agenda points leave this dialogue out of the minutes.

5. As the minute taker try to remain neutral when typing up your notes. If an argument took place during the meeting or someone stormed out of the room I wouldn’t necessarily put this detail in the minutes at all but if your chair person indicates that you should include this level of detail then I would suggest you remain neutral in your tone and choice of vocabulary.

6. I do sometimes find with minutes that I will repeat the same words over and over to describe the decisions made and actions agreed, particularly when I’m not really in the mood to write them! So a few years ago I wrote out a list of 50 handy verbs that I could slot into the minutes as and when I needed them. Here is the list:

Acknowledged

Agreed On

Agreed to

Announced

Arranged

Asked for

Asserted

Assured

Believed

Brought up

Complained

Confirmed

Decided

Declared

Described

Detailed

Discussed

Displayed

Emphasised

Explained

Expressed

Guaranteed

Identified

Implemented

Informed

Listed

Maintained

Mentioned

Noted

Observed

Perceived

Predicted

Presented

Promised

Proposed

Recommended

Remarked

Reported

Requested

Reviewing

Said

Settled

Showed

Specified

Stated

Stressed

Suggested

Summarised

Understood

Worked on

7. This comes with time but getting a real sense of what people are discussing in the meeting makes writing the minutes up afterwards a lot easier. Try to read the papers beforehand and get to grips with the details. If there are things you don’t understand spend 5 minutes with the Committee Chair before the meeting to ask questions you might have. During the meeting listen more than you write and summarise the details at the end of the discussion. The more you listen the easier you will find subsequent meetings.

8. Past tense in the 3rd person. This is the grammar to use when writing minutes, for example: Nicky Christmas agreed to distribute the minutes as soon as possible. I would also recommend using initials rather than full names to save some time but this is a style choice and may not be suitable for all companies.

9. If a report or paper has been circulated during the meeting there is no need to write any of this detail in the minutes. Simply state that the paper was noted by the Committee and any action points arising from the discussion.

10. Proofread your work once finished. I tend to get everything on the page as quickly as possible and then go back a day later to tweak the wording and sentence structure. The minutes will probably be proofread by at least two other people before they are finally circulated so be prepared that some of your work will be changed anyway.

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Comments

  1. Pauline says

    Thank you. I will be taking minutes today and this gives me some additional motivation to take better minutes. Loved the 50 handy verbs. Thanks

  2. Sandra Coine says

    I, too, have taken lots of Minutes during the years. Your information is helpful and one I tend to follow as standard practice. Some meetings are easy to attend and take Minutes than others. Another good suggestion is to record the Minutes. Use your notes to type information and then listen to the recorder to fine-tune the Minutes. If Minutes have to be posted due to the Brown Act, more detailed information should be included in the Minutes.

  3. says

    All good suggestions. I take minutes regularly as well and actually enjoy it. Taking minutes is a team effort though and that is why at the next meeting the team has to approve or amend them as necessary. I think some people get so stressed that they have to have it perfectly. There are other people in the meeting that will be able to help you. Especially the person who reported on the item and the Chair. I agree that preparation is key. The more prepared you are the less stressful it will be. And the sooner you type them up the better. Even if you just do it in draft. Memory plays a big part in transcribing your notes. I also have a list of words I use interchangeable. You can only say Mr. Brown reported on so many times so I like to change it up with other words. http://secretaryhelpline.blogspot.ca/2010/02/minute-taking-made-easy.html

  4. Sue Burke says

    Hi, I normally follow the advice that getting the action points down is the most important part of taking notes of a meeting. So I might just type the agenda item title and then perhaps “It was agreed that”, basically what will be done by who, and if appropriate by when.
    It can be quite frightening to minute meetings where you don’t know what they are talking about. If I am unfamiliar with the meeting subject and terms I will ask the Chair to ensure that I get the action points down.

  5. says

    Thank you so much for this post. I am constantly taking minutes so the list of verbs is so handy as I too find that I just constantly repeat the same phrases. As an extra I tend to add an actions table at the end of my minutes that simply lists the actions arising against the name so it is much easier for the Chair at the next meeting to see the list of actions that need comment.

  6. Lee Ann Brown says

    Good article and can’t imagine why I didn’t take the time to write up a list of verbs for quick reference instead of thinking them up each time I realized I was repeating the same word! Thank you! One of the Boards that I take Minutes for appreciates having the “action” items listed at the beginning of the Minutes so they can quickly scan it and then read the narrative when they have more time.

  7. Helen A says

    Very helpful article. I am a VA and have been approached by potential client for taking minutes at their weekly staff meeting and monthly managers’ meeting.

  8. Lisbeth says

    Great article; – I do a lot of minutes and when I got my first PC I started bringing this into the meeting, typing the minutes during the meeting. So when the meeting is over I have already done the minutes, except for minor adjustments during proof reading. Very time-saving :-)

  9. Jen says

    Great tips. just started a new job and yes it is hard to minute meetings when you are new to the office, clueless of what they are talking about so referring back to your colleagues is very important.PS. love your blogs! Keep it up!

  10. Zain says

    A good, brief but rich advise for all minute takers… thanks for the nice article… hope more will come soon…

  11. vicky says

    Very useful piece. Thank you, especially for the list of verbs. I got chewed on at the last BOD meeting for watery and inelegantly couched words! I should do better next time with this.

  12. a says

    Hi, thank you so much it is very helpful. i have just started taking minutes and most of it doesnt make sense. ur article is very helpful thank you for the verbs too.agnes

  13. Yoyo says

    Just thank you very much for your blog. It’s very good for me to read your posts because I dont’t speak English very well and when I come here I learn a lot of interesting things and in the same time I improve my English.

  14. KDC says

    I am preparing my first minutes for a new job and your information is just what I needed. At the end of the meeting the floor was opened for comments, questions, suggestions, concerns, etc. While I took notes of each do I list them and attach the name of the person to each even it was a complaint?

  15. Belinda says

    Thank you I have printed this out and will definitely use it. I am just about to start a job where weekly staff meetings will need minute taking and this will be the first time I will have done minutes. One question, how do you remember everybody’s names? especially when you have only been working there a few days and don’t know everyone.
    Again thank you very much for this page
    Bee

  16. Sara says

    I have had many PA roles over my working life and still do not enjoy taking minutes, mainly because the people I have worked for never seemed to have patience or time to explain things. However, this February, I am, after being made redundant for the 8th time, about to start yet another PA role to an MD who hasn’t had a PA before! This will be a challenge in itself but also gives a lot of scope for both of us to develop the role to each others benefit. It will be working for a company whose business jargon is not something I have ever come across so the monthly meetings, I know I will have to minute, will be somewhat of a challenge. However, I have been scanning the internet over the last couple of days for all sorts of information that may help me and coming across this information has given me renewed hope that I may, for the first time, enjoy the process and be able to go home at the end of the day/meeting feeling achieved and positive. Thank you for that help.

  17. Sara says

    Bee – I am in the same situation. I start a new role on Feb 3rd and will have to take minutes knowing nothing about/nor understanding the business’ jargon, let alone the people who are giving it. I would ask them to wear name badges or sticky labels with their names on it for the first few times until you get to know them a little better. If they want correct minutes they will/should be only too pleased to make sure you know who said what and what was said!

    Good luck! I know I will need it too!

  18. Luke Roberts says

    Hi

    Thanks heaps for the awesome tips

    What would be the best way to reference this if I wanted to use part of it in a presentation?

  19. Suzy says

    Hi I wonder if you could help me! I take all the minutes in my office but the CEO will always send them back with complaints.

    I follow the company template and capture all the data and action point succinctly, following the numbering from the agenda (where possible). I’ve never had complaints about my minutes in any other job.

    Is it me or is my boss just nuts?

  20. says

    Hi Suzy – The boss is not nuts and it’s not you either – it is simply miscommunication between the two of you. You need to sit down with your CEO before the next meeting and discuss what he/she expects of you in your role as the minute taker and how the two of you should interact in the meeting ie can you speak up and ask questions or ask for clarification or will the CEO repeat the action points that you need to get down etc. There may be a particular way your CEO expects to see the minutes regardless of the template – perhaps a block of bullet points at the top which are action points and then the minutes below or whatever their preference is. May be you put in it who has said what or vice versa and the CEO wants it the opposite way round to how you do it. There are several ways to write minutes and you need to know exactly what your CEO expects of and exactly how he/she would like you to take the minutes. When he/she has made a complaint did you register what the complaint was and why you possibly did it differently from what they expected? Different people have different ideas of how they would like them written and presented even though I know you say you follow the company’s template. The way to solve this is ask outright what your CEO expects of you until you understand completely. You can use my TED acronym that I teach to get more information – Tell me more/Tell me what you mean; Give me Examples/Explain further and Describe in Detail. Hope this helps. Sue France author of “The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook” & “The Definitive Executive Assistant & Managerial Handbook”

  21. Ch says

    Thank you, Great article.
    I am in the process of applying for an EA role and one of the application questions is to provide an example of your minute taking skills.
    Surely they would not want actual minutes which are confidential!
    Is it ok to tackle this question with what I focus on to create successful minutes. Cj

    • says

      That is an odd request – I’ve never heard of a company asking for that before. I would go back to them to clarify what they need. I would also mention the minutes you take are confidential and instead you can give them an example of the template you use or the guidelines you follow. Nicky x

  22. Bee says

    Excellent and concise : thank you very much. I’ll try and use your guidelines. Do you have any further reading I can tackle?

    I’ve been told to only minute Actions…. which is difficult given that some discussions appear to me to be very importand….

    Cheers

    Bee

  23. Andrée says

    Thank you for the article!
    Meeting minutes are an heavy process for me. I always had a problem with it (and more generally with note taking). However, since I use an iPad for work it becomes way easier for me. I take my notes with an application called Beesy and then, the meeting minute is automatically generated from the notes (I can edit if needed). In fact I take notes adding different actionable and assignable items, which allows the app to treat the info and rearrange it in a meeting minute. If you taking note with iPad you should have a look at it.

  24. says

    Thanks for your article. I have a new position where I may be required to take minutes. It is not my strong point. But after reading your article(s) I am feeling more confident.

  25. says

    Hi, I take minutes on an average of three, maybe four times a week and it is the bane of my life. I have never known board members to sit down and say so much about so little or to make a decision without going around in circles at least twenty times and then to CHANGE their minds, AND they talk about a woman.

    Thank you so much for your list of words – they are helpful.

  26. Jo Hardy says

    I have an interview next week and it was quite a surprise to read that part of this was a task of minute taking! Although I have taken minutes years ago, it was with people with whom I worked and therefore I had no qualms! Thanks so much for the advice and the guidance through steps to take, very useful and I shall be well prepared now!

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