Skip to content

Choose the Right Verbs for Shorter Meeting Notes

The other day when I led the online course Meeting Notes Made Easy, an attendee I'll call Sheila asked how to avoid going into too much detail. Sheila worried that she usually writes a transcript, when what people need from meeting minutes are key points, decisions, and action items. Yet she did not know how to include less information. As people talked, she wrote.

Sheila admitted that people probably did not even read her meeting notes. Why not? Because they're too long.

If you too record everything people say, here is a way to summarize:

Choose the right verbs.

The right verbs are ones that help you summarize. These are words such as discussed, presented, gave, explained, and summarized.

The wrong verbs are ones that lead to word-for-word statements: said, stated, responded, replied, and countered.

The wrong verbs invited unnecessarily long passages like this one:

"Carol said desktops were a better choice because they're easier to work on. Hallie stated that she preferred laptops, so we can take them on the road. Nguyen countered with a preference for desktops because if people take the laptops on the road there won't be computers in the room for the purpose we had in mind. We all put in our two cents. Finally we decided on two desktops and one laptop."

Compare the passage below, which covers the discussion with one good verb: discussed.

"We discussed the merits of desktops and laptops. Decision: Purchase two desktops and one laptop."

These verbs help you capture what happened without "he said, she said" details.

  • Stacy explained how the system works.
  • Rubina summarized the customer data. The key finding was . . . 
  • Sam presented his group's proposal, which is attached.
  • Lars gave an overview of the audit planning process. 

If you have suggestions for Sheila that will help her eliminate unnecessary details in her meeting minutes, please share them. I will happily pass them on to her.

To learn more about how to take meeting notes and minutes the easy way, take my online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy

Syntax Training 

Posted by Avatar photo
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.

4 comments on “Choose the Right Verbs for Shorter Meeting Notes”

  • Its good to know difference between right and wrong verbs.I also believe that right verbs always help and I like that you always give example as its very easy to understand.

  • sometimes it’s useful/ necessary to tell who said what

    eg “Mr X said that the ABC Corp will not pay compensation. Ms Y said that the DEF Agency will consider litigation if no offer is made.”

    hopefully to be followed by some outcome

    but thanks for sensitising us to the search for the right verb

  • Felix, you are correct. Sometimes it is important to know who said what, typically because of the individuals. For example, readers of the minutes will want to know if the corporate attorney or the chief negotiator has said something significant.

    Thanks for adding that helpful clarification.


Comments are closed.