Tip Sheet 12 - Minute-Taking Tips and Techniques

taking minutes

Minutes of meetings constitute the record of deliberations and decisions of a duly constituted committee, task force, working group, etc. They maintain an accurate record of an officially convened meeting. Together with the agenda and associated documentation, minutes provide a long-term or permanent record of the proceedings, both for members and, where appropriate, for those who were not in attendance.

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) allows members of the University and the public to request access to information under the University’s custody or control. Note that minutes of meetings and accompanying documentation can be requested under FIPPA, and with few exceptions, access to these records may be granted. Therefore, in creating your minutes be mindful that they may be made accessible beyond the original audience.

Governing bodies at the University are strongly encouraged to use “executive”-style minutes – a concise record that consists only of actions taken by the particular body.  Minutes are not a verbatim or chronological account of a meeting, and they do not normally reference individual points made in discussion.

Effective minute-taking

Before the meeting

  1. Together with the Chair, decide what kind of record needs to be created in view of the purpose and objectives of the meeting(s), any specific operational requirements related to the group or committee, any University-mandated recordkeeping requirements, any policy and/or legal requirements, etc.
  2. Prepare templates for agendas and minutes that contain the items in “what to include” below, and that facilitate consistent formatting, sequencing and content. Use your agenda to formulate an outline for the minutes template.
  3. Prepare an agenda that lists the meeting time, date, location and items for consideration, and attach any materials needed for review by members.
  4. Review all meeting materials before the meeting.
  5. If you use a computer to take notes, make sure you have a backup method (e.g., paper and pen).
  6. Prepare and bring an attendance sheet. Ask members to indicate their presence, as they arrive, by putting a check mark next to their name.

After the meeting

What to include

  1. Write the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting has taken place. Present the discussions neutrally, giving appropriate emphasis to arguments on all sides of the discussion.
  • Meeting date, time and location
  • Names of the committee or other group holding the meeting, the Chair and Secretary
  • List of those present, including guests in attendance, and any recorded regrets/absences
  • A record of formal motions and outcomes

What not to include

Remember that with executive-style minutes, only actions are recorded in the formal record. In particular:

  • Avoid directly quoting individuals
  • Don’t include unsubstantiated or subjective information or opinions
  1. While it is acceptable to identify individuals where they are acting in their business or professional capacity as an elected or appointed member or officer, such as presenting a report or other scheduled item, it is not recommended to identify individual participants together with their opinions. Use the passive voice to summarize the main points raised:
  • It was moved, seconded and carried that…
  • In the discussion about X the following points were raised…
  • Proponents of the resolution elaborated on the rationale and, in response to a question, gave assurances that…
  1. Clearly identify each document presented and discussed. If required, consult with the Chair on any issues that require clarification.

Confidential minutes

If minutes are confidential (i.e., the meeting is closed), mark them as such and limit circulation only to members of the committee and any selected others who have authorization to view them as part of their duties and responsibilities.

Retention and disposition of minutes

Once approved, the minutes of the meeting should be stored together with the agenda and documents for the relevant meeting. Normally notes can be safely destroyed when the minutes have been approved and all necessary correspondence has been completed. Notes should not be retained unless there are legal or statutory requirements to do so.

These documents become the University’s official record of the meeting deliberations and must be retained by the office with primary responsibility for their retention for the length of time specified in the University’s Common Records Schedule (CRS).  At the end of their retention period, minutes and associated documentation must be (in most cases) transferred to the University Archives as specified in the CRS. Units that are not the Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) keep their duplicate copies of minutes and documentation for a shorter time period, most often until there is no further need for them operationally (usually up to three years).

Other records of proceedings

Working notes

The recording secretary’s working notes are drafts that normally should be destroyed once the minutes have been approved by the respective committee. If other participants take notes that are not part of the official record of the meeting, they should be advised that these notes could be included under a request for access under FIPPA and access might be granted to them; therefore, they may wish to destroy their rough notes once the official minutes have been approved and published.

Audio/video recordings

Audio or video recordings of meetings are generally not advised. If a recording is made, it should be retained only until an approved summary is prepared or, if the recording is the record of the meeting, for as long as other similar records in a particular file class are retained. Ensure secure destruction of audio and video recordings, since they contain personal information. For more information see the IPO’s Tip Sheet 7 on Secure Destruction of Records.

When not to take minutes

For informally constituted groups (those whose existence is not mandated by policy or legislation) such as ad hoc task forces or working groups, regular staff meetings, periodic administrative forums, etc., formal minutes are not required – a  summary of tasks assigned and accomplished and items agreed to is normally sufficient to document the ongoing work of such groups. For ad hoc task forces and working groups a final report most often constitutes the formal record of the group’s work.

This document has been developed to assist in establishing good practices and procedures. If you have questions about minutes and minute-taking, contact the University Secretariat at ext. 55310. Additional questions or requests for advice on records and information management or information and privacy issues should be referred to the Information and Privacy Coordinator: info.privacy@yorku.ca.