Techniques for preparing minutes

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Techniques for Preparing Minutes
We mentioned earlier that organization skills are very important. You need to be at a meeting and ready to record as soon as the chair calls the meeting to order.
In this lesson, you’ll learn some techniques for taking accurate minutes. We’ll also talk about the processes of drafting and proofreading.
Top Techniques
While formal and informal meetings are conducted differently, and their minutes appear in different formats, your job remains the same: to prepare an accurate account of the decisions and actions at a meeting.
To be a good minute-taker, you should:

  • Understand company jargon
  • Have a background knowledge of the topics being discussed
  • Know meeting participants or at least the spelling of their names
  • Be familiar with past minutes
  • Have good communication skills

Before the Meeting

  • Here is a checklist of things to ask before the meeting.
  • Are you taking notes for someone else to transcribe or will you do it yourself?
  • Are there previous minutes to examine?
  • When are you expected to have the first draft prepared?
  • What is the purpose of the meeting?
  • Are you permitted to voice your own comments in the meeting or is your function simply to take notes?
  • Will you be expected to have certain information on hand?
  • What is the parliamentary authority used by the organization? How familiar should you be with it?
  • Has an agenda been sent out to all the participants?
  • Are you supposed to call the participants and remind them of the meeting?
  • Are you responsible for booking the room and room setup?

During the Meeting
At the meeting, if room setup is part of your job, try to arrive early to ensure everything has been prepared. Some things you will want to prepare for are listed below.
As minute-taker, you should sit on the left hand side of the chair. The position to the immediate right is reserved for special guests. The minute-taker should be able to see all the participants.
Reading Past Minutes
If the previous meeting’s minutes are distributed ahead of time, they are not read aloud. However, at a general meeting where the entire membership is invited to attend, it is common practice to read the past minutes aloud.
The minute-taker usually reads the minutes in this case. If so, have them unofficially approved by the executive group ahead of time so you don’t have to worry about mistakes. You should also practice so you can read smoothly.
Make sure you have a system for noting corrections to past minutes. These can be attached as an appendix.
Technical Tips
If you are using a computer to record minutes, make sure you have all the equipment necessary, including electrical outlets. Ensure that you also have a pen and paper handy as a backup.
After the Meeting
If you don’t have time to prepare the minutes immediately after a meeting, at least reread your notes and add additional comments to ensure you have enough detail to interpret them later.
Have you ever tried to look at your meeting notes and struggled to re-read your writing or decipher your own shorthand or cryptic keyboarding to remember what happened? There is a lot going on in any meeting. Counting on our memories to record important information is not that reliable.
Try to think about a conversation you’ve had this morning, and it can be hard to do, even if you were really connected to the person you were speaking with. As a minute-taker, you can’t afford to depend on your memory to recall important decisions. Going over your notes right after the meeting, while the information is fresh in your mind and your notes still make sense, is the best way to make sure you capture as much as possible.
Writing Minutes
Rough Draft
Your drafts should be labeled “Rough Draft” and double spaced to allow for corrections and editing. Circulate the rough draft to as few people as possible or it will take forever to get the minutes written as everyone will have his or her own version of what occurred. When you circulate the minutes, make sure the readers know that they are only to correct something that you have made a mistake in recording. They are not to re-write things as they wish they had been said, nor are they to add their opinion on an outcome.
Style Considerations
In formal and semiformal minutes, always write in complete sentences using the past tense and the third person. Never use abbreviations; type a person’s name in full. In action minutes, point form is acceptable.
In formal minutes, group words and titles are capitalized:

  • Committee
  • Board
  • Department
  • Division
  • Secretary

In informal minutes, these words are not capitalized unless they are accompanied by a specific name. For example, in “the committee wishes…” use lowercase “c.” However, in “the Education Committee wishes…” use capitals.
Use a straightforward narrative style and simple words. If the group is concerned only that the minutes be intelligible to them, you can be brief in your comments. If the minutes are a means of communicating with others, then your summaries may have to be in essay style.
Headings or subheadings should not be left dangling at the bottom of a page; they should be followed by at least two lines of text or moved to the next page. Use subheadings for individual topics in the body of the minutes. Each item on the agenda can become a separate heading.
Double check all figures, dates, and spelling of names. As well, always keep your notes of the meeting until the minutes have been formally approved by the group. 

Margins and Spacing
As minutes are normally filed in binders, use bound manuscript margins – 1.5 inches on the left margin and 1 inch for the right, top, and bottom.
The heading lines should begin 1 inch from the top of the paper. Each heading line should be centered. The words can be typed in uppercase and lowercase letters or in capitals, depending on the organization’s style.
If the minutes are brief, double space the body and triple space between items. If they are long, single space them with a double space between paragraphs. Indent paragraphs unless you are using subheadings. (If you are, it is not necessary to indent.) Place the subheading directly above each paragraph.
Use bold for subheadings and to highlight dates and names.