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Taking minutes: Structure and content

Aim: Those who missed the meeting should know what was discussed

Minutes document the proceedings in a discussion, meeting or conference. They describe the topics under discussion and document the results. Those who were not present for the event should be able to inform themselves about what was discussed by reading the minutes. Successfully taken minutes allow those who missed the meeting to get quickly up to speed with the main points.

Discussion minutes are chronological

There are two main types of minutes: discussion minutes and action minutes. Discussion minutes follow the meeting agenda and record everything that was discussed in the meeting. While not a word-for-word transcript, the goal is to cover everything that was said in a series of bullet points.

Action minutes are shorter and record the decisions reached and the actions to be taken

Action minutes are much more concise and document all results, decisions and planned actions as well as who is responsible for carrying them out. Key discussion points are concisely recorded along with the resulting decisions.

Minutes: Formal structure

Discussion minutes should be structured as follows:

• Minutes header - should contain the date, place, start and finish time, a list of attendees and absentees and the name of the minute taker

• Structure - list the points on the agenda (if available)

• Results - concise, neutral and objective description of decisions and the discussion that lead up to them. This is not just the place to document the decisions that have been taken but how they were reached.

• Minutes footer - signature of the minute-taker and the person leading the meeting

• Appendices - if hand-outs, documents or notes were distributed, these should be listed and attached to the minutes. Online information sources should be quoted with the weblink and the date they were accessed.

The formal criteria for discussion minutes can also be found in action minutes. Here, too, there should be the same header and footer content. If available, the agenda can be briefly documented. Action minutes only record the decisions reached and the actions to be taken, without the discussion leading up to them. Any documentation should, as for discussion minutes, be listed and attached.

Minutes should be neutral and objective

Regardless of the type of minutes, there are a few general principles that should be observed:

• Minutes should always be written in the present tense. The narrative is more authentic and reports what happened in real time.

• Contributions that reflect personal opinions should be formulated in the conditional tense. Example: “Peter Meier said, he could imagine that new elections might be needed.”

• Minutes must always be written from an objective, neutral and fact-based standpoint. The personal opinions of the minute-taker or subjective adjectives like “good”, “bad”, “unqualified” or “improper” have no place in the minutes.

• Should a point require additional clarification, comments to this effect should be placed in brackets. This indicate that this explanation was not part of the original meeting.

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