Minute taking can be a daunting, difficult task for any business professional. There will never be a perfect first draft of minutes. They require careful proofreading, which may be better handled with another person's eye. It can help to have someone not close to the task take a look at the minutes. There are certain rules, which can be modified to suit your particular needs, abilities and workplace requirements.
There are a few key pieces that must accompany every set of minutes, regardless of where a person works. These include the date, time and place of the meeting, the attendees and any members that were absent or excused, the time the meeting was called to order and by whom and the time the meeting adjourned.
It may be helpful to write or type up a template with the above items with blank spaces to fill them in to save time. It is also helpful to have a sign-in sheet that requires the attendees to print their full names and titles to be used later when the minutes are being typed.
Before the Meeting Starts
The minute taker should find a seat in the room where she can easily hear all of the members. If the minute taker feels she has missed something, she should either speak up and ask for the speaker to repeat the information or make a notation to check with the speaker after the meeting to clarify information. There's no shame in clarifying information.
Most organisations have a loose template on how their minutes are to be structured. Typically, however, they follow a similar format.
It is helpful to use a table format when typing the minutes. Insert a table with two columns and add rows as necessary. Format the table so the first column is about one-third the size of the page. The first column will contain your headers. Ideally, the headers will be listed as follows and all in bold, upper case font:
PRESENT ABSENT/EXCUSED RECORDER
Between the attendance list and the beginning of the actual minutes, you can add a short line that says "Meeting called to order by Mr. Smith at 8:00 a.m."
After that line, begin your headers down the first column. Each header should have its own row. Here are some suggestions.
TOPIC DISCUSSION/FINDINGS ACTION
For each topic discussed, a title or heading needs to precede the paragraph regarding the discussion. For example, if someone was talking about fourth quarter data for hip replacements, it could be titled Hip Replacement Statistics, 4th Quarter 2009. Put the topic title in bold and underline it.
The discussion/findings section should contain the most important pieces of the discussion. There is no need to say "Mr. Smith said the data was irrelevant, and Mr. Baker said no, it is." It would best be stated as "Mr. Smith voiced concerns over the relevancy of the hip replacement data. However, Mr. Baker felt it is appropriate because....." It is not necessary to dictate the exact conversation, just report the most important pieces.
The Action section is crucial. Meeting members and attendees are often assigned tasks to perform or to follow up. This section would be used for that purpose. It can and should be used for denoting any committee approval, denials and so forth. Examples of actions include "Mr. Smith was asked to bring first quarter data hip replacement data to next month's meeting," or "The Committee approved the addition of Prevacid to the formulary."
The last rows of the minutes should be dedicated to the next meeting's information. The topic would be "Next Meeting," and the action would be the date, time and place. There will be no discussion/findings section for this part.
The time the meeting was adjourned and by whom should come after the above information, for example, "Mr. Smith adjourned the meeting at 9:00 a.m."
At the bottom of the last section, add a signature line with the chairman's name and title underneath it. All final minutes should be reviewed and signed off by the chairman.
Review of Minutes
Typically, the first topic of the minutes will be "Approval of Minutes." This would be relevant for those meetings that occur on a regular basis. At the start of each meeting, the chairman asks for approval of the prior meeting's minutes. Members can either accept them as written by seconding the motion for approval or submit revisions.
For minutes approved with no revisions, the Discussion/findings section should read "Minutes from the June meeting were reviewed." In the action row, write "Minutes were accepted as written."
For minutes with revisions, the Discussion/findings would be "Mr. Smith submitted revisions to the June minutes." The action would then be "Minutes were reviewed and accepted pending revisions."
It is up to the minute taker to take those revisions and add them to the prior meeting's minutes. Those should then be reviewed and signed off by the chairman.
The Importance of Proofreading
Sometimes, minute takers get too engrossed in their subject. Try putting a rough draft together within the first day after the meeting, while information is fresh. This is not always possible but helpful if done.
After a second draft of the minutes has been typed, take a few hours or a day or two to step away from them. It will give a fresh perspective and catch any errors that may have been overlooked. Have someone else proofread for grammar and punctuation if possible.
If allowed, use a digital voice recorder. If one is used, make sure the batteries are fresh and room available on the device to record. Transfer the recording to a PC or laptop to access at a later date. Once the recording is saved on the computer, it can be safely deleted from the device.