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Essential minute taking tips the professionals use

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Writing minutes might seem like a fairly simple task, but only the professionals can be trusted to produce a fluent and reliable document.

Most organisations – banks, big business, European Works Councils – prefer minutes in the third person. Sometimes the meetings will be recorded, and the audio uploaded to the minute taking company via a secure link; at other times, no recording is made, and the minute taker attends the meeting, taking notes in the first person. In both cases, the final document must be produced from a first-person record.

To do this, the writer will use a standard Minute Template. Frequently, this is provided by the company in question, but minute taking firms have their own templates too. Using the template to divide the notes into the appropriate paragraphs, the writer transforms the sentences into an impartial record.

To avoid monotony, the professional minute taker adapts verbs to the nuances of the meeting. Thus, for instance, one sentence might read: ‘Angela advised David that he could tell her whatever he needed to’. This formula is used frequently; however, if it is used all the time it can become monotonous. A less official comment might be rendered in a more responsive fashion: ‘David felt that he had been harshly treated by management’.

A similar question arises if David replies to a question, in the meeting, with the words: ‘That is not true’. This might be written into the minuted as, ‘David stated that this was not true’, but the document might read more fluently if, instead, the remark is rendered as: ‘For David, this was not true’.

Subtle variants such as these are used by professional minute takers and writers. Consequently, their documents, unlike those of amateur writers, have a firmly official tone but are not rigid.

A further, important characteristic of minutes is their unusual use of the simple past and the past perfect tenses. The past perfect tense, in everyday speech, is used frequently, but is not, in general, used for a whole narrative. You might say, for instance, ‘I had just turned my back’, and then switch into the simple past tense to complete the story: ‘I had just turned my back when the dog charged through the kitchen and crashed into my legs, pushing me head first into a bowl of mashed potato’.

In minutes, though, the simple past is used very frequently: ‘David stated’, ‘Angela advised’. So if David, in the meeting, remarks, ‘I met John when I was working in Southampton’, and narrates a long story of his time in Southampton, the minutes will be doubly removed: ‘David had met John when working in Southampton’. Because it is unfamiliar, many writers confuse the tenses in minutes; professional writers, who are used to this peculiarity, do not make the same mistake.

The format of minutes depends on the organisation in question, but this might serve as a rough guide.

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