Types of minutes: the right minutes for your meeting

26 September

Minutes are important. There is no doubt about that. Yet, there are major differences between different minute reports. For example, this can depend on whether you prepare minutes for an informal internal meeting or for a pension fund board meeting, where other bodies and organisations also rely on the minutes. What different types of minutes are there? And, which type is right for you?

The purpose determines the type

First, it is important to consider why the minutes are being prepared. Is it to be able to read a verbatim report of what was said after a meeting? Or do you only want to know which actions and decisions emerged from the meeting? As you can imagine, these objectives produce two completely different minute reports. Thus, it is important to ensure that the purpose of the minutes is always clear. Objectives could be:

  • To have a record of who said what. This is especially relevant for discussions and conflicts. Consider, for example, court hearings and reports.
  • To inform those who did not attend the meeting. Someone who was not present at the meeting will be fully informed on the state of affairs before the next meeting.
  • To ensure accountability to internal and external parties. For example, a pension fund board must ensure a transparent decision‑making process for the supervisory board and auditors that conduct external audits based on the minutes.
  • To monitor actions. Who is responsible for which action, what is the deadline and the current status?
  • To record decisions. What has been decided? And, if necessary, the arguments for this decision.

The type of meeting also determines the type of minutes needed for the meeting. We make distinctions between various types of minutes.

Literal and verbatim minutes

The most comprehensive form of minutes are literal and verbatim minutes. These minutes are actually more of a transcription. In such a report, what was said is written down word for word or verbatim. Literal and verbatim minutes differ in their readability. A literal report reflects everything that has been said, including slips and hesitations, such as ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’. In a verbatim report, the minutes secretary or transcriptionist ensures that sentences are grammatically correct, without adjusting the speaker’s choice of words.

The advantage of literal and verbatim minutes is that you know exactly who said what and there are no real possibilities for further discussion on the text. However, this results in a very long report. A one hour meeting can easily produce six to eight pages of text. Therefore, it is important to ask yourself whether it is vital to know exactly who said what. This type of minutes is mainly used for hearings, interviews and court reports.

Summary minutes

The most common form of minutes is summary minutes. At Emma Handson, we prepare this type of minutes, for example, for the various governing bodies of pension funds. The minutes secretary has an important role in preparing summary minutes. The minutes secretary must extract the essential elements from what has been discussed. An agenda and a clear cover note are helpful for taking good minutes. In this way, the topics to be discussed are clear prior to the meeting, and during the meeting it is clear which discussions are sideline discussions. A good minutes secretary is knowledgeable and understands what should and should not be recorded in the minutes.

The advantage of summary minutes is that the minutes do not become longer than necessary. The minutes can be limited to two or three pages per hour of meeting. All important information is included in the minutes and there are no unnecessary distractions. A distinction can still be made between extensive summary minutes and concise summary minutes. Therefore, it is important to think carefully about how elaborately the discussions should be reflected in the minutes. A tip is to review the minutes after the first meeting. This way, you can adjust or clarify your wishes to ensure that the minutes reflect your objective.

Minutes in the form of an action and decision list

An action and decision list is often a part of summary minutes, but can also be used as a separate type of minutes. The minutes are then formatted in a table, so that information is easily readable. This type of minutes is especially useful if minutes are mainly used for practical purposes and it is not as important to report on how decisions were made. You can immediately locate the topic you are involved in in the table and check whether any important actions or decisions emerged from the discussions.

Minutes in the form of an action and decision list are even shorter than summary minutes and are easily scannable. Minutes in a table, which still address arguments behind the decision or action, are also possible. These arguments can, for example, be listed as bullet points. This ensures that minutes can still be easily scanned, but also provide more background information on discussions that took place during the meeting.

Minutes by name

Once the type of minutes has been determined, it is still important to determine whether the minutes should record names or not: namely, whether the input of specific individuals should be reflected in the minutes. Often, it is important to note which person had which input in a discussion. After all, everyone speaks based on their role or knowledge on a topic. Special positions, such as the chair, a key function holder at a pension fund or a legal advisor, can be listed under the attendance list. Often, the chair is even referred to as the chairman or chairwoman throughout the minutes.

Minutes by governing body

Names are not always important. In some cases, governing bodies find it important to speak ‘with one voice’. For example, during collective bargaining, the parties may call a recess during a meeting in order to consult amongst themselves and return to the meeting table with a joint position. In this case, it does not matter who expressed this position; it is ‘the employer’ or ‘the union’ that speaks. In other cases, it should be clear that different positions and questions have been presented, but not necessarily by which person. Although often avoided at other points, the passive form can then be used: “It was asked whether…”.

Hybrid minutes

Literal, verbatim, (extensive or concise) summary minutes and action and decision lists are the main types of minutes. But, of course, there are just as many wishes as there are people. Many hybrid types of minutes can be envisioned. This depends entirely on the various requirements and wishes. If you hire a professional minutes secretary, they will be able to help you decide which type of minutes is most suitable for your meeting. What type of minutes do you need? At Emma Handson, we have a professional team of minutes secretaries with experience in preparing all types of minutes. We are happy to help you. Contact us by calling (+31) 73 747 00 54, emailing info@emmahandson.nl or click here.

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