The world runs on meetings, committees, and minutes, so taking minutes at a meeting is an important task. Good minutes are vital to the success of any meeting. After the meeting, attendees should be able to verify what decisions were made and what actions are to be taken.
Minutes document the proceedings in a meeting. They can be recorded on a computer or by hand. An experienced secretary understands what should be included in the minutes and what should not. Minutes may take shape as a list of actions, a narrative of discussions, or a verbatim record of the proceedings.
For many secretaries, the easiest method of taking minutes is a laptop computer. Notes may be taken by hand if a computer is not available or if the person feels more comfortable using pen and paper. To ensure accuracy, a recording device like a digital recorder may be used. The tape is not considered a permanent record of the meeting because it will likely not identify speakers and it is possible to splice and alter tapes.
The secretary’s job is to sort through what is being said and to record the important decisions and actions in the minutes. Good minutes will follow the order of the agenda. They can list the attendees if the group is small. It is not necessary to list all attendees when the meeting is large, for example a meeting which includes the entire staff or membership. If something is not immediately clear to the minute taker, it is acceptable to politely interrupt the speaker to ask for clarification. After the meeting the speaker may no longer remember exactly what he or she was trying to communicate.
Minutes serve to record what happened in a meeting. Opinion and speculation do not belong in the minutes of a meeting. There are three standard styles of minutes: action, discussion, and verbatim. Each style has a specific use.
- Action minutes record the decisions reached and the actions to be taken, though not recording the discussion that went into making the decisions. This is the most common form of minutes used. They include a report of actions taken since the last meeting as well as planned actions. It is important to note who is responsible for upcoming actions. The secretary should save any handouts included with a presentation.
- Discussion minutes are lengthy and may include information which is not essential to the focus of the meeting. It may be necessary to keep discussion minutes in a situation where the process behind the decisions may be in question later. Discussion minutes contain everything action minutes do as well as the discussion which lead to the actions decided upon. Do not include discussion which does not pertain to the topic at hand. Be sure to record the speaker and the focus of the presentation as it concerns the topic.
- Verbatim minutes, like transcripts, are a record of every single word said at a meeting. They are often long and can be difficult to skim for a particular piece of information. With the exception of courtroom proceedings and Congress, a verbatim record of a meeting is rarely necessary. Verbatim minutes will not always follow the agenda.
Whether the secretary uses a laptop to record minutes or a boundary microphone and a pen and paper, most minutes follow the agenda of the meeting. Action minutes are a succinct description of the meeting’s results, discussion minutes will flesh out the actions, and verbatim minutes are a word-for-word record of a meeting. All three styles of minutes should include any handouts or other reports given to the participants.