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The do’s and don’ts of minute taking

27th March 2018

‘Writing, the art of communicating thoughts to the mind through the eye, is the great invention of the world’ – Abraham Lincoln

People in organisations of all kinds often find themselves called upon to take minutes, with little training or guidance to support them. It can be a daunting task, complicated by factors such as ambiguous agreements, a vague agenda, interruptions or a poor Chairperson.

Taking minutes is a professional skill and needs training, yet this doesn’t always happen. Like any skill you need to seek opportunities to practice as much as possible. It can be a challenge to summarise any meeting discussion if the Chairperson doesn’t keep control of the meeting, the members talk quickly, or others talk all at the same time!

The participants in a meeting rely heavily on the minute taker to record the outcomes of the meeting. The role is not always an easy one and requires skills such as:

  • Listening
  • Being methodical
  • Accuracy
  • Interpersonal
  • Being selective
  • Organisational
  • Literacy
  • Presentational

The skills used for minute taking are transferable in a whole range of work situations.

When you are writing meeting minutes you need to include different kinds of information; the most pertinent points, plus the agreements reached or actions to take/taken should be recorded.

In situations of critical importance – and where the record is most important – you may need to take detailed minutes. When this isn’t the case, minutes can be simple lists of decisions made and actions to be taken (with the responsible person identified).

Here’s a list of what needs to be included in effective meeting minutes:

  • Date, time and location of the meeting
  • The purpose of the meeting
  • Names of attendees and those who were unable to attend
  • Agenda items
  • Decisions that were made
  • Actions that need to be completed. Include the deadline and who it is assigned to
  • Follow up meeting

Good minuting is a deceptively difficult and time-consuming task and is often described as an art. There is no one-size fits all solution.

Meeting minutes provide a written record of what was discussed and agreed at a meeting, so you and your colleagues will have the same recollections from the meeting and the same ideas about what was agreed. With good meeting minutes, you make sure everyone knows what was decided and what needs to be achieved by what date.

Here are our top tips on what to do and not do when minute taking:

The Do’s:

  • Get there early
  • Make sure you know who the Chairperson is and sit next to them
  • Organise seating and refreshments
  • Check that the room and attendees have the right resources – paper/pens/projector/whiteboard/flip chart/laptop/iPad etc.
  • Read through all papers well before the meeting
  • Ask for the names of those present
  • Listen carefully
  • Write down key words and the theme
  • Write down decisions
  • Ask for clarification
  • Check your notes with the Chairperson
  • Make sure everyone who attends receives the minutes well before the next meeting

The Don’ts:

  • Rush in at the last minute or reschedule the meeting a few minutes in advance
  • Send out minutes just before the next meeting
  • Sit at the back, or out of view
  • Ignore previous minutes
  • Be embarrassed to ask people their names
  • Try and write down every single word
  • Circulate minutes without the approval of the Chairperson
  • Worry that you don’t understand every detail of the conversations

‘The weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory’ – The Exponential Growth Strategist