15 Top Tips for Taking and Transcribing Minutes

As a Legal Secretary, you are sometimes called on to take the minutes in a meeting and afterwards transcribe them. The taking and transcribing of minutes is a very valuable skill once perfected. However, it can be daunting if you are inexperienced or lack confidence.

If this is you, then panic not – DeskDemon.com has compiled 15 top tips on the subject. 

1.    Take Diaries to Meetings

Always take your diary (and your manager’s if need be) to meetings so you can ensure that the next dates fixed are suitable.

2.    Be at the Meeting Room Early

Get to the meeting room before the others. Set out papers, glasses, water carafe, stationery, etc. in advance, and be sure to note who is present and who sent apologies for absence.

3.    Use Abbreviations and Symbols

Use abbreviations and symbols (such as arrows or brackets) if they help to communicate data easily and quickly, but only if you are sure you’ll remember what they stand for when you transcribe the notes.

4.    Pick Up Key Words

Try to pick up key words and phrases; these can act as triggers when you transcribe the notes.

5.    Use Double-Line Spacing

Set down your notes in double-line spacing so that you can go back and insert a word or phrase easily if need be.

6.    Pay Special Attention to Senior Members

Get to know who are the senior decision-makers and influencers at the meeting. This doesn’t mean that you should switch off when other members speak, but that you pay special attention when senior members join the debate.

7.    Put a Name to Each Face

Make sure you can put a name (correctly spelled) to each face so that you know straightaway who is speaking. Use initials of speakers in the margin to the left-hand side of your notes to save time. You can then use the right-hand margin to make especially important notes.

8.    Be Effective

Take an interest in the work of the committee or project group you are taking minutes for. This is the only way to take minutes effectively.

9.    Sum Up

If you are using shorthand to take meeting notes, generally avoid trying to make a verbatim transcript. A lot of waffle or verbiage is uttered at most meetings, and producing a full transcript of this is a waste of time and effort. A good chairperson will usually summarize towards the end of each item of business, before a consensus decision is made or a vote is taken. This is an important moment for the minute-taker, as it generally provides the salient points for noting. If in doubt, ask the chairperson before the meeting whether there is any item for which a full transcription would prove useful.

10.    Maintain Confidentiality

Many meetings include confidential items, so clear tables of any papers left behind and shred them if necessary. Always maintain the confidentiality of your draft minutes until they have been approved by the chairperson.

11.    Check in Advance

Check in advance with the chairperson about what format conventions should be applied in regards to narrative, action and resolution. Some meetings adopt the convention of never referring to a speaker by name but instead using impersonal constructions such as “It was suggested that … ” and “Strong reservations were expressed about ... ”. Find out what the desired conventions are before you start.

12.    Prefer the Short to the Long

Try to convey the important points quickly and concisely. Managers are busy and prefer the short to the long, provided that arguments and points are not distorted. Always make sure that you convey the decision or action statement clearly and accurately. Minutes serve as written records, and it is your duty to provide a faithful transcript. And if you have problems over transcribing a sensitive item, consult with the chairperson and abide by his or her advice.

13.    Condense Lengthy Discussions

Sometimes you can condense lengthy and digressing discussions with phrases like “After a general discussion it was decided to ... ”.

14.    Be Diplomatic

Feelings can run high in meetings. Members sometimes say things in the heat of the moment that they would consider ill-advised when calmer. You won’t be thanked for highlighting such moments in painful detail. It is both diplomatic and prudent to convey the sentiment but not the precise words.

15.     Treat Minutes as a Vital Task

Never defer this vital task. There is often a need to distribute minutes promptly, and it also pays to transcribe while the meeting’s business is still fresh in your mind.