Tag Archives: minute writing

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise, and Accurate?

Minutes should demonstrate your efforts at promoting good governance. They should document agreements reached, decisions made, and actions assigned during the meeting.

As such, they must be clear, precise and accurate.

Here are some actual examples of unclear minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has been told about it? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 June 2019.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Examples

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 June 2019.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • Betty Lim (Finance Dept) has briefed all staff and vendors involved on the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 June 2019.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 June 2019.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should You Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Your Minutes?

You should care because minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

Write your minutes with these objectives in mind. Be mindful of  what to include, and how clear and precise your recording needs to be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 28 August 2019.

Are Your Minutes Clear, Precise and Accurate?

A course participant recently asked me this question:

________________________________________________________________________

Sometimes, we write minutes for meetings that are just for information. These minutes are used to demonstrate good governance to regulators and the authorities.

Therefore, these minutes are splattered with phrases like “The committee noted / The team discussed…” (Eg: The committee noted the steep rise in visitor arrivals for the year 2013.) What do you think of this way of recording?

________________________________________________________________________

Yes, our minutes should demonstrate our efforts at promoting good governance. It is for this reason that our minutes have to be clear, precise and accurate.

Examples of Unclear Writing

Here are some common unclear ways of writing minutes:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 November 2014.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

Let’s see how each example is unclear:

(1)  The committee noted the increase in entertainment budget by S$10,000.

What does the word “noted” here really mean? The committee has taken note? Or that they have pointed it out?

Write this in a more precise way.

Example

Sally Ling informed the committee that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(OR)

The committee leader, Peter Tan, informed the meeting that the entertainment budget has been increased by S$10,000.

(2)  The meeting discussed the implementation of the new invoicing system by 20 November 2014.

This is too vague to be any value as a record. What are the details of the discussion? What was the decision? Again, make it clear and precise.

Example

Sally Ling reported that everything is on track for the implementation of the new invoicing system, and it will be implemented on 20 November 2014.

(OR)

Regarding the new invoicing system, Sally Ling reported that:

  • All staff and vendors involved in the exercise have been briefed about the implementation plan.
  • Five IT technicians will be assigned to be on-call (round the clock) from 9 to 20 November 2014.
  • The implementation is scheduled to take place on 20 November 2014.

(3)  It was clarified that the Annual Sales Conference will be held at Grand Hotel Singapore instead of Pacific Grand Singapore. This was decided at the committee meeting last week. This decision for the conference venue should be taken up as an action point.

In this extract, the passive voice has been used (It was clarified that… / This was decided… / This decision… should be taken up…)

The passive voice is not suitable for minute writing, because the writer is given the option of not including the active subject in the sentences. (With this option, the subject is sometimes omitted, because it is easy to do that.)

Once the subject is omitted, there is no record of who clarified issues, who made decisions, and who was assigned action points. In other words, accountability is not recorded.

Why Should We Care About Clarity, Preciseness and Accuracy in Minutes?

We should ensure that our minutes are clear, precise and accurate.

Don’t forget that minutes are legal records, and they serve to:

  • Remind participants of discussions and agreements.
  • Remind participants of follow-up actions.
  • Serve as a record of discussions and decisions.
  • Help those not present to understand discussions and decisions.

With these objectives in mind, you should have an idea of what to include, and how clear and precise your writing should be.

Want to learn more? Attend our programme Writing Accurate and Effective Minutes on 18 & 19 November 2014.

Who Should Vet My Minutes?

Many minute-writers ask me this question – Who should vet my draft of minutes?

My answer is this – the person who chaired the meeting. Only the chairperson has the power to vet your minutes.

Some minute-writers circulate their draft of the minutes to everyone who attended the meeting for vetting. Can you imagine the potential for abuse and chaos?

Let’s say I participated in the meeting, and I did not like the group decision that only $15,000 will be allocated to my project (I had initially asked for $18,000).

If I were also given a chance to vet the minutes, what’s to stop me from amending the figure to $18,000?

And if many people were to take such liberties, can you imagine the nightmare of tracking and correcting these attempts at changes?

Can you imagine the arguments and proving of who-said-what involved?

To sum it up, only the chairperson should vet and amend your draft of minutes. And this draft should be written up within 2 days of the meeting and submitted to the chairperson, so that discussions and agreements are still fresh in the chairperson’s mind.

Attending Meetings and Writing Accurate Minutes

Some people say that a meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours are wasted.

It doesn’t have to be so. Attending meetings and taking minutes may be challenging, but these can be managed if you prepare well. And there are advantages in performing these tasks well.

In attending meetings, you are kept up-to-date with the latest developments in your department or organisation. When you conduct yourself professionally at meetings, you create a favourable impression and command respect from your colleagues, managers and associates.

Writing minutes allows you to hone your writing skills. You will become good at writing.

Quick tips for participating in meetings and writing minutes:

(1)   Prepare for the meeting.

If you go in cold, you will have little idea about projects and their statuses, and it will be difficult to keep pace with the discussion.

There are several ways you could prepare yourself:

–  talk to people who will be attending the meeting

–  read the previous minutes

–  get to know the terminology or jargon that will be used

(2)   Understand your role at the meeting.

In a meeting, you will play one or more of these roles – leadership, recorder or participant role.

If you play the leadership role, you will be chairing the meeting or facilitating the discussion. If you play the recorder role, you will be taking notes to write up the minutes. If you play the participant role, you must know how best to contribute towards the meeting of objectives.

Be clear about your role at meetings and prepare for it.

(3)   Know what you should be listening for. 

Many minute-writers are not sure what to record, and they end up recording much more than is required. This is a waste of time and effort, both for the writer and the reader.

To know what to listen for, you must know the objectives of the meeting. For example, if it’s a meeting on safety issues, then anything related to safety should be considered for recording.

Otherwise, if someone makes a casual, unsubstantiated remark on safety, it should not be recorded unless there is good reason.

(4)   Record action items clearly and accurately.

People rely on the minutes to recall what they agreed to do after the meeting. If your action items are unclear, they could be subject to different interpretations, and the required action may not be carried out.

In recording an action item, make sure to include these factors:

–  the person accountable

–  the action required

–  the deadline

Sometimes it is also necessary to record when the person accountable has to report the status to the meeting.

Write in full sentences, not sentence fragments.

Which of these action items is more complete?

(a)  Peter Lee to contact suppliers – 20 May 2014

(b)  Peter Lee will contact suppliers A and B by 20 May 2014.

If you think that (b) is more complete, you are right. Unfortunately, (a) is a very common way in which people write action items.

(5)   Know the sections in a set of minutes.

Find out how to write each section of the minutes, as well as the grammar to use. Here are some quick references:

(a)  The Apologies section is where you record the names of people who are not present, whether they have informed you, or they have simply not shown up.

(b)  The Minutes of Last Meeting section is for confirming the minutes of the last meeting. This is to prevent individuals from amending the minutes unofficially, as only the set officially endorsed at the meeting is the official copy.

(c)  The Matters Arising section provides a link to outstanding action items from the previous meeting.

(d)  The Any Other Business (AOB) section allows for last-minute items to be discussed. This refers to items that arose after the agenda was distributed, and the chairperson must decide whether to adopt the items for discussion under AOB.

Accept the challenges of attending meetings and writing minutes confidently. Adopt a learning mindset. Don’t be afraid to clarify and confirm issues before, during, and after the meeting.