How to write meeting minutes people want to read

Talking of written clarity … when was the last time you received some business or social meeting minutes and actually found them easy to read?How to write proper meeting minutes on HTWB

What’s the problem with meeting minutes as they are today?

You may be quite happy with the meeting minutes you receive from whatever business, third sector/voluntary, social and other groups to which you belong.

But face it: in some cases, minutes we receive from such sources are about as reader-friendly as a cornered rat.

Often they are verbally dense, ungrammatical terms, full of typos, poor punctuation (if any) and other structural issues that make them stodgy and spiky all at the same time.

It’s all about whether you want people to read and understand them

I’m not denigrating minute-takers in meetings. You folks do not need to be literary artistes or flamboyant poets.

But meeting minutes in my experience – and that of many others I know – are written to boring criteria, which means you get:

  • Ridiculous formality
  • Old-fashioned wording
  • Reference to people by their full titles or worse still, by their initials
  • Description of issues in long-winded ways

Result? They are hard to comprehend and tend to discourage readers from a) reading further than the first few lines and b) taking in the points made and retaining them.

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In today’s climate, particularly – where there is much more written information flying around than, say, 30 years ago – people are used to reading information that’s simple and to the point.

In fact it’s now a case that if you want people to read what you have written, you must keep it simple and to the point or they’ll skip over it to the next bit of information they’re expected to absorb.

The answer? Write your meeting minutes for the 21st century

This involves breaking down some old-fashioned notions and chopping down some of the ancient ideas attached to minute-taking here in the UK, certainly (where I live currently) … but also elsewhere.

And I suspect this applies to other cultures, countries and languages, too.

1.Dump the formal names

If everyone in your group or on your committee or team calls each other by first names, why on earth do you revert to full ranks and titles in the meeting minutes? Yet you see that all the time in meeting minutes. In your “those present” list at the beginning write out their full names, first and and last, then call them by their first names from there on throughout the document. So Dr Michael Jones goes in the “present” list, then becomes Michael from there on.

2.Dump those pesky initials

This is something that drives me nuts, because even if I’ve worked with a group for months if I see them referred to in the minutes by their initials I’m scrambling back and forth to the “present” list to find out who they are every few lines. Dr Michael Jones here would be referred to as MJ. Do everyone a favor and call him by name. Please.

3.Dump the long-winded businessbabble

Meeting minutes are official documents, but that doesn’t mean they need to be phrased as if written by a lawyer on steroids. Clarity is what matters, not how long the words are. As with most business writing, use the shortest possible words, sentences and paragraphs so people get the information as quickly and clearly as possible. (Even the Declaration of Independence wasn’t pompous or stuffy considering it was written in the 18th century.)

4.Write the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting

What you don’t want to do is leave it for several days or even weeks, and then have to rely on your written notes to remember what happened. While it’s all still fresh in your mind, you can use your notes as a reminder – not gospel – of each discussion, action or whatever and then write a summary of it in your own words. That’s likely to result in much clearer, more accurate minutes.

5.Don’t let other people tinker with the minutes unless they really do outrank you

We’ve all heard about the camel which is a horse drawn by a committee. If you have been given the job of writing the meeting minutes you’re the one who has been pre-programmed to listen correctly. Other people’s recollections of what happened may not be so accurate and if they start editing your minutes it may skew the realities. So unless your boss or other Big Cheese insists, keep the minute-writing to yourself.

For more on how to take notes in meetings, you may find this earlier article of mine helpful.

What’s your experience with stuffy, cluttered meeting minutes?

Please share!