When I teach Meeting Notes Made Easy, I encourage note-takers to record what was done, not what was said. People don't need to know the lengthy he said/she said details. But my friend Heidi, a tax attorney, advised me to emphasize that what was done is not enough for investigators, examiners, and auditors who read meeting minutes looking for the rationale for important decisions.
Heidi described examining meeting minutes to be able to justify why someone received a huge raise. The meeting minutes had to include much more than the words below for her to begin to explain the decision:
After discussion, Dr. Morris moved “that Dr. Gomez’s annual salary be increased by $90,000.” Motion carried.
Yes, the words say what was done, but they don't tell why. What happened during the discussion that led to the decision? Why did Dr. Gomez receive a $90,000 raise when Dr. Cooper received only $15,000?
This content is better because it gives more information:
After discussion, Dr. Morris moved that “Dr. Gomez’s annual salary be increased by $90,000 to reflect her new leadership role in the lab.” Motion carried.
And this is better still:
Mr. Bean presented compensation data on lab manager positions in comparable institutions. (Report included with these minutes.) After discussion, Dr. Morris moved “that Dr. Gomez’s annual salary be increased by $90,000 in light of the data.” Motion carried.
If your organization follows parliamentary procedure and Robert's rules, your job as a note-taker is indeed to state what was done–not what was said. Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised gives that advice. But be sure that your what was done also includes why.
Even if you write informal notes rather than minutes, putting a little meat on your notes will help people understand them in the future. This decision might keep people guessing:
Decision: We decided to forego having any raffles or raffle baskets at our 2019 concerts.
Reading the notes a few months from now, that decision might seem odd. One might ask "Why aren't we doing raffle baskets anymore?" and not find an answer. This version would answer everyone's questions:
Decision: We decided to forego having any raffles or raffle baskets at our 2019 concerts. Our primary reasons are that (1) the raffle doesn’t do anything to help us create our loyal community of fans and donors, (2) without a raffle, we can focus more on asking people for their contribution and the need for contributions, and (3) we seem to receive the same amount whether we focus on a raffle or a request for contributions, and raffles take a lot of effort.
Whether it's you or an auditor who needs to know the rationale for a decision, including the why in your meeting notes and minutes is an excellent practice.
Take my new online self-study course Meeting Notes Made Easy to learn everything you need to know about taking notes and formal minutes. You'll get best practices, templates, and practice taking notes at a virtual meeting.
And check out these blog posts on specific note-taking topics:
Should You Take Notes by Hand or Computer?
Meeting Notes: What Would You Include?
When Someone Lies in Meeting Notes
Minute-Taking Tip: Get Three Appointments on Your Calendar
Turning Desire into Action: Writing Great Meeting Notes (about learning about technical topics)
Do you have tips on writing meeting minutes that satisfy auditors but still get read? Please share them.