The Virtues of Writing Good Notes

Courtesy of Cheltenham Partnership

One of the most important yet neglected skills in today's workplace is note taking. In an age of instant communication, smart phones and ever smarter social technologies, the discipline of writing good minutes still has its place.

Wait, hang on a minute, you say. Isn't it just the secretary's job to pen down the proceedings of a meeting/forum/brainstorming session? Couldn't we rely on our memory to remember what the follow ups to a discussion are?

Well, consider this:

1) Things that doesn't get written down often doesn't get done.

2) Our human minds are limited in capacity (especially as we age).

3) Writing helps to clarify one's thoughts and to improve the logical sequencing of disparate ideas, suggestions and inputs.

4) The pen/keyboard is often mightier than the sword, and whoever influences what's written often determines the outcomes of key decisions.

5) Secretaries of meeting wield a lot more power on how things are shaped and run than they are often given credit for.

6) Writing something down and communicating it to all parties in a meeting can sometimes protect you. It is harder to dispute what's written down than what's said aka the power of black and white.

Of course, writing good notes doesn't necessarily mean taking everything down verbatim. Rather, it should follow these steps:

1) Write down as much as possible during the meeting, but prune them mercilessly thereafter.

2) Do it as soon as possible, preferably within a day or two after the meeting. The longer one takes to write the minutes, the more one forgets (and the harder it becomes).

3) Be concise but clear, focusing heavily on the outcomes and follow ups rather than the nuances of the debates between the various protagonists.

4) Organise your notes into topics and issues rather than adhere to a purely chronological format.

5) Adopt a consistent writing style depending on the nature of the minutes/notes. For Board meetings, a more formal language may be necessary, while email notes could be done in a shorter bullet-point format.

6) Use the right subject headings and sub headings, and adopt bullet-points if your readers find these easier to comprehend.

7) If time permits, check with all parties involved on whether you have captured what they have expressed accurately. If time doesn't permit, the views of the chairman of the meeting (and your boss of course) would probably matter more.

Oh yes, before I end, let me say that it is PERFECTLY OK for the boss/chair of the meeting to take down notes himself or herself. In fact, he or she would have a lot more influence on what should be done when, where and by whom if he or she practices it.

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