Preparing and writing good meeting minutes are skills that anyone can acquire with a little preparation and attention to detail. An impartial and correct record of meetings is a legal requirement for many businesses. Whether you write minutes for a business, political, social or volunteer organization, the minutes will become a permanent part of the organization's history. In many cases, minutes are kept for years, decades and sometimes centuries.
Arrive at the meeting early with the meeting agenda, list of attendees and equipment necessary to record the minutes. Choose a seat near the meeting facilitator. Sitting close to the meeting facilitator allows you to hear better and to ask for clarifications easily.
Ask if you can use a tape recorder to record an audio transcript of the meeting. If you take notes on a computer, verify it works correctly, and have a paper notebook and writing instruments to use as a back up note-taking method in case the computer fails.
Record the date and time the meeting is called to order. Record the essence of the officers' reports and committee reports. Usually, full reports are attached to the meeting minutes. Record motions as they occur. Include who introduced each motion, who seconded the motion and whether the motion was approved, which is known as "carried," or failed. If an agenda item is tabled -- not acted on during the meeting but held over for a later time, note who introduced the motion to table the item and who seconded the motion. Record announcements and the dates of follow-up meetings.
Find or create a meeting minutes template. Your organization may already have a meeting minutes template. If it doesn't, you may use one of the many meeting minute templates available online or create your own template. The template needs a heading, body and signature line. The heading includes the name of the organization and the date, time and location of the meeting.
Create the template's body using the meeting's agenda as your guide. Include the following items in that part: attendance statistics, approval of the last meeting minutes, officer and committee reports, old business, new business, announcements and adjournment time.
Ensure the template includes signature lines and date lines for the secretary and the approving authority.
Prepare your minutes using the template. Eliminate excessive detail. Record what was decided, who will do the action, when it is due and how the organization will know when the action is completed. After you complete your first draft, review the meeting's audio transcript to ensure you captured everything necessary. Then edit your minutes.
Minutes are a record of actions that the organization takes. It is not a record of everything that is said, which is a transcript. Keep your minutes professional. Do not include your opinion, judgment or interpretation. Phrases such as "heated debate" and "excellent comment" have no place in professional meeting minutes. Never include motions that were withdrawn.
Attach officer and committee reports to your completed minutes. Make the required number of copies. If possible, distribute the meeting minutes before the next meeting so that additions and/or corrections can be made quickly.
Check off attendees on your list as they arrive at the meeting. Record accomplishments as well as concerns. Verify names are spelled correctly. Keep a backup copy of your minutes. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification.
Saoirse Scully began writing professionally in 1982 for the "Tenino Independent" and worked for 15 years as a technical writer for state government. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and labor studies from the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont.