What are meeting minutes?
Official minutes document the most important points discussed during a business meeting. They aren’t a full transcript and shouldn’t include too much detail. Instead, they should cover the highlights and the most crucial details. In less formal settings, meeting notes provide a record of the discussion for future reference. In more formal settings such as board meetings, companies take minutes and file them as legal documents.
Why take meeting minutes?
Well-organized and thorough meeting minutes provide many benefits:
- Institutional memory: It’s important to be able to retrieve facts, decisions, votes taken, conflicts, attendees and other important details when needed. This can resolve debates over what occurred and help absent team members catch up with new developments.
- Legal protection: Auditors, courts and the IRS consider meeting minutes official records of the actions of an organization and its board. Documented proof of what happened at a meeting can be critical.
- Measuring progress: Meeting minutes can serve as a timeline of progress on projects, substantive decision-making and the effective execution of action items.
- Determining ownership: Minutes record votes and owners of tasks and decisions, clarifying who’s responsible for specific actions and simplifying accountability.
- Effective planning: Having access to the decisions and information generated at a meeting can be crucial for short- and long-term planning. Good meeting minutes can enhance the accuracy and pertinence of the planning process.
- Enhancing efficiency: It’s important for the whole team to have access to information from meetings in order to operate at full efficiency. This awareness can eliminate duplication of efforts or the wastage of time and energy on tasks that are no longer priorities.
- Creating a starting point: If the team meets regularly, your previous meeting notes can remind you where the last discussion ended. Having this as a starting point for the current meeting eliminates the need to get back up to speed before embarking on the current agenda.
How to take minutes for meetings
Once you have a clear grasp of the role of meeting minutes in business, you can delve into the specifics of note-taking.
1. Preplan for your notes
Getting as much as possible done before the meeting makes accurate note-taking easier. Create or download a template that matches the specific needs of each meeting: a board meeting template may well differ from a team meeting template.
If you can access the meeting agenda ahead of time, get a head start on your notes. Prepare the framework by plugging the agenda points into your template. List expected attendees so you can simply check them off as they arrive. Connect with the person running the meeting to clarify their expectations, such as whether they want you to include the names of the people who propose motions or how each member votes.
2. Note the important details
If you’re the note-taker, your goal is to include the important information. Avoid clogging the minutes with unnecessary text.
Record the fundamentals
Note the meeting’s topic, its location (if this is relevant), the date and time, the attendees and the items on the agenda. In a formal meeting, note approval of the previous meeting’s minutes.
Provide a summary of the discussion of each agenda item, including who participated in the conversation. Record any votes taken and the overall results. If there were any outstanding action items from a prior meeting, note their status and (where necessary) any decisions made about how to carry them forward.
Identify items pertaining to the next meeting and record adjournment
If a date and time are set for the next meeting, include them, along with any actions expected from the team before that point. Note any items set for discussion at that meeting. Record the time of adjournment, and for a formal meeting, record the associated motion and vote.
Specify supplementary documents
If the meeting minutes include attachments needed for context or more detailed information, specify what they are.
3. Keep it simple
Make your notes clear and simple. Consider using a template like the one provided below, and try to summarize exchanges rather than transcribing them word-for-word. Make note of participants as they enter the meeting or join the call.
Where possible and appropriate, record the discussion so that you can revisit it later and clarify details.
4. Format your notes after the meeting
It’s best to start formatting the information right after the meeting when the details are still fresh.
Be sure to add clarifications to your initial notes wherever needed, and ensure that the writing is consistently in the past tense. Wherever it’s appropriate, note speakers and participants who contributed specific noteworthy points, decisions or updates.
Attach your supplementary documents as an appendix, and save documents in a consistent naming style so that they’re easy to find and organize.
5. Have your notes reviewed
For important meetings, and especially for official proceedings such as board meetings, have another team member review them for accuracy and clarity. Official minutes for board meetings may need board approval to file as an official record. This approval process typically occurs at the beginning of the next meeting.
6. Distribute the minutes to your team
Once the minutes are finished and approved, share them with all participants and absent team members via email. You can easily set sharing permission to “viewing only” for minutes created in Google Docs, or simply convert a word processing document into an e-mail shareable PDF.
7. Store a copy
You’ll need to store all meeting minutes safely in one location. Create an easy-to-find digital folder, and make sure you have at least one backup copy. You can store a digital backup on an external hard drive or cloud storage service, or you can store a paper version in a designated file drawer with chronologically organized folders.
Additional tips for taking meeting notes
Here are some additional tips to help you take better meeting notes:
- Get clarification: Meetings can be chaotic, with many people talking at once. The conversation might bounce around to different topics, making decisions and action items hard to follow. Make sure you know the outcomes of the points you’re noting in the minutes, and ask for clarification if needed.
- Stay objective: Meeting minutes should be objective with short, straightforward statements about what happened. Don’t include personal opinions or observations. Everything should be factual.
- Understand who can access minutes: In many cases, meeting minutes are considered public records, which means others can view them. Make sure you understand who can view the meeting notes, and keep that audience in mind when deciding what information to include. Avoid including anything that could reveal too much information or negatively affect participants.
- Limit names and quotes: Since people beyond the meeting attendees may be able to access the minutes, keep as much information confidential as possible. Avoid including names for most things other than specific actions when necessary. Never include direct quotes from meeting attendees.
Meeting minutes template
This template can help ensure that your meeting minutes are thorough and effective:
[Meeting name] meeting minutes
Location: [Address or name of meeting room]
Attendees: [list of names]
Approval of Previous Meeting Minutes: [motion and vote]
[motions and votes, if applicable]
[motions and votes, if applicable]
[motions and votes, if applicable]
Action Items, Owner(s) and Deadline Status
[Action item 1] [Name(s) 1] [Date 1] [Status 1 for example, In Progress or Complete]
[Action item 2] [Name(s) 2] [Date 2] [Status 2]
[Action item 3] [Name(s) 3] [Date 3] [Status 3]
[Action item 4] [Name(s) 4] [Date 4] [Status 4]
[Action item 5] [Name(s) 5] [Date 5] [Status 5]
[Action item 6] [Name(s) 6] [Date 6] [Status 6]
Meeting Adjournment: [motion and vote]
[Time and Signature]
Meeting minutes FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions about meeting minutes:
Who should record meeting minutes?
The person taking meeting minutes can be a professional note-taker, such as an administrative assistant who attends solely to record the meeting. Alternatively, a meeting participant can take the minutes. It’s important that the note-taker is able to quickly determine which information is pertinent and what they can leave out.
Should meeting minutes be signed?
If minutes are intended as official records, either the minute-taker or the approving chairperson should sign them. These notations show which version is the latest approved copy, and the date helps you organize the minutes.
Should meeting minutes be written in the past tense?
Your minutes will refer to past events and discussions and should generally use past tense. The only exception applies to details about expected events to come. For example, “The annual report will be checked for errors and discussed in the next meeting.” Make sure the tense is consistent throughout save for future events.