Peter wrote recently to ask about the appropriate verb tenses to use in meeting minutes. Read these sentence pairs he asked about and decide which sentences sound better for meeting notes and minutes.
A. John said the next meeting will be on October 1.
B. John said the next meeting would be on October 1.
A. Min reported that the new shipment arrived today and is ready for processing.
B. Min reported that the new shipment had arrived that day and was ready for processing.
A. Stella said we need to seek a legal opinion.
B. Stella said we needed to seek a legal opinion.
Which do you think work better–the As or the Bs?
The As are more immediate. When I read them, it is as if I were there. As an attendee at the meeting, I might have asked, “Excuse me. What did John just say?” And the answer would be “John said the next meeting will be on October 1.”
The A sentences use the same verb tense the person at the meeting used.
In contrast, the B sentences move the speaker’s words into the past, or at least they seem to do so. Did Min report that the new shipment “had arrived that day”? No, probably not. She probably reported that it “arrived today.” Similarly, Stella probably said “We need to seek a legal opinion.” Although it is possible she said “We needed to seek a legal opinion,” it is not likely.
Remember that your grammar and spelling checker does not recognize that you are writing minutes, so ignore its questions about your verb tenses. Usually picking the appropriate verb tense should be easy. But it gets hard when you wait a long time before writing the minutes. If the meeting took place weeks ago and today is October 2, it may seem silly to write “John said the next meeting will be on October 1.” It is silly. You need to write the minutes sooner, preferably within a day or two of the meeting.
To learn more about writing meeting notes and minutes, take the online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy.