The Virtues of Writing Good Notes

August 22nd, 2011   •   1 comment   

Writing Good Notes
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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.

But hang on a minute, you say.

Isn’t it the secretary’s job to pen down the proceedings of a meeting/forum/brainstorming session?

Why can’t we rely on our memory to remember what the follow ups to a discussion were?

Benefits of Note Taking

Well, consider these advantages of taking good notes:

1) Things that are not written down often are left undone.

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

3) Writing helps us to clarify our thoughts and to improve the logical sequencing of disparate ideas, suggestions and inputs.

4) The pen/keyboard is often mightier than the sword. Whosoever can influence 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. A hundred words written in black and white is far superior to a million words which are spoken but not heard.

Tips on Writing Good Notes

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 you take to write the minutes, the more you will forget (and the harder it will become).

3) Be concise but clear. Focus heavily on the outcomes and follow ups from your discussions, rather than the nuances of the ideological debates between various protagonists.

4) Organise your notes into topics and issues rather than blindly follow 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 shorter bullet-point formats.

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.

I should know because I have done it myself before.

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One comment

  1. Lam Chun See
    posted on Sep 15, 2011 at 2:48 PM

    Different context, but probably relevant.

    Years ago, when I started work in NPB as a trainer (that would be mid-80’s) I recall telling my trainees about the importance of taking notes – some students think it is ok to skip classes; simply borrow their friend’s notes.

    Research shows that:

    1) Those who take notes do better (in exam) than those who don’t.
    2) Those who take detail notes do better than those who took brief sketchy notes.

    I cannot remember the other ‘pearls of wisdom’ that I dished out – there were probably 4 or 5 or them in total.

    The reason is obvious. The information that goes from the lecturer to your paper passes through your brain where it gets processed; crystalized and remembered.

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