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Note Takers, Don’t Work So Hard!

The other day I taught the online class Meeting Notes Made Easy. No wonder most of the people had enrolled in the class: They were working way too hard.

When I reviewed their sample meeting notes, I found huge amounts of detail. The note takers explained new procedures in detail. They described new job openings in detail. They included long lists of comments made during meetings. They produced 5, 10, even 20 pages of notes for meetings only a few hours long!

That is too much detail for normal meeting notes.

Meeting notes should include the answers to questions 1 to 8 and sometimes 9 to 11: 

  1. Which meeting was it?
  2. What was its purpose?
  3. When did it take place?
  4. Who attended? (Who did not?)
  5. Which topics were discussed?
  6. Which important points were made?
  7. Which decisions were made?
  8. Which actions were agreed upon? Who will complete them? By when?
  9. Which topics were tabled for the future?
  10. Which materials were distributed? Where are copies available?
  11. Is a follow-up meeting scheduled? When? Where? For what purpose?

Notice that this question does not appear on the list: 

What are all the details?

I believe some note takers in the online class were doing the job of other managers, supervisors, and specialists who were announcing information at meetings. The note takers were recording entire announcements and new procedures in the meeting minutes rather than just mentioning them. But the notes should say only something like this:

Brooke Nelson announced a new position in Human Resources: Training & Development Coordinator.


Safety Manager Ralph Howe presented a new inventory procedure for the flammable storage cabinets. The procedure is attached.

Then it is the task of Brooke Nelson and Ralph Howe to inform people in their organizations about the new position and procedure. They can use email announcements, newsletter articles, flyers on bulletin boards, training programs, procedure manuals, web pages, Intranet posts, blog posts, and other ways. But they can't expect the meeting notes to make the announcements to everyone for them, can they?

Note takers, don't work so hard! Capture what happened at the meeting. But don't record all the details–that is not your job.

Do you agree? 

To make your life easier as a meeting note-taker, take the online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy.

Syntax Training

Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
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. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

9 comments on “Note Takers, Don’t Work So Hard!”

  • I agree with you but my meeting attendees (supervisors) expect detail. They use my minutes to update their supervisors.

  • I took over taking minutes from a woman who created a virtual transcript of each weekly meeting. I agonized over the meetings and typing up final minutes until I realized I could do it my own way and use bullet points, without loss of relevant information. The chairman prefered the shorter style because he was way behind in reviewing and approving the 15-page transcripts.

    When it’s necessary to have more details, we use a voice recorder that can download recorded files to a computer. This makes it easier to control playback and create a full transcript.

  • I agree, may be if they already know the topic, reading upon it will help them remember points.. clearing doubts also becomes easy. right?

  • The above suggestions are all good ones. Ther is one other to consider. Many professors whose lectures are on powerpoint will simply email their powerpoint presentations to you, or make them available on their college webpage. You might ask about that as well. Good luck.

  • Lynn,I participated in your class about two years ago. It was great and I learned a lot. I hope everyone has the opportunity to take your class. And the best thing- my office paid for it.

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