Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 14, 2014

Why is minute writing difficult?


Many people find the prospect of taking and writing up minutes daunting because they think they will have to capture every (film) meetingword that is said. But the job becomes a lot easier once you understand that the purpose of minutes is normally to note only the decisions and actions required, and possibly also the major reasons and issues. Done well, the task should be really satisfying, and perhaps almost enjoyable. The very word ‘minutes’ suggests something brief – and minutes should normally be a summary of key issues, decisions and agreed actions. They do not need to record exactly what people said.

Common problems

Unfortunately, meetings are often badly chaired and it can be hard to know exactly what has been agreed. Here are some of the most common problems:

  • No one sticks to the point and lots of different suggestions are being made about what to do
  • The discussion jumps from one item to another and nothing gets finished
  • Everyone is talking at once, and you can’t follow the discussion
  • You don’t know which bits of a long, confusing discussion to note down
  • You want to join in the discussion, but can’t take minutes at the same time.

Difficulties such as these can make you nervous about getting it right. When a meeting is so chaotic, how can you know whether you have recorded the right things, in the right order and in the correct amount of detail?

Possible solutions

  • Taking minutes is much easier if a meeting is well run. It’s the chair’s job to keep the meeting in order – but he or she can only do this with the co-operation of everyone at the meeting.
  • One idea is to discuss and agree with the chair some ground rules – for example asking people not to interrupt, to put their hand up if they want to talk and to keep to the agenda item under discussion.
  • Don’t hesitate to point out that is impossible to take minutes if everyone is talking at once and not following the agenda.
  • If it’s not clear what decision has been made, ask the chair to clarify the wording. This is particularly important for critical decisions.
  • If there is a particularly important decision, it can be useful to check what you are writing down with the meeting. For example; “so the meeting wants it minuted that £100,000 should be moved from balances to meet the increased heating costs during the current year?”
  • The fact that you are concentrating on taking minutes does limit the extent to which you can join in the meeting – it goes with the job. If an item in which you have been centrally involved is being discussed and you have a lot to say, you could ask someone else to take minutes just for that item.
  •  If there is a long discussion, try to pick out the main points and list just them. For example; “Members discussed the benchmarking information and the following points were made …”

It is always a good idea to discuss the agenda with the chair before the meeting – the clearer you are about the content of the meeting, the easier it is to minute it.

We have developed a new minute writing workshop which aims to develop participants’ confidence in taking notes and in producing minutes that effectively record discussions and decisions made during meetings . This is proving to be a popular choice for clients during the first part of 2014.

During the workshop, we encourage participants to see minute taking as a good opportunity to develop their skills, enhance their confidence and develop their visibility in the organisation . This is a highly interactive programme delivered through discussion, small group/individual exercises and case studies .

The photo at the top of this page is a screen shot from a DVD produced by The Development Company , which provides the realistic meeting scenarios which we use during the workshop.ws-course-brochure-145px

Word Smiths  2014 training brochure provides more information about all our training events – do check our website to download this publication. And get in touch if you need any help with your minute writing concerns. I’d love to hear from you.

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