The purpose of minutes
You should write minutes so that someone who was not at the meeting can follow the decisions that were made. A variety of people external to the board or committee will read minutes, not just the colleagues who were there.
You are creating the permanent formal record or the 'memory' of the University.
Minutes can be used in external audits and legal proceedings. They should give an accurate, impartial and balanced record of the meeting. They should be clear and concise, so use short sentences.
The secretary should:
- always double-check facts, figures, dates and names to avoid errors
- include all decisions or recommendations, not all the discussion
- only use given names of individuals where necessary, e.g. where an action is needed, or a special contribution is made or to record any particularly strong or dissenting views
How to format minutes
Use the minutes template.
Minutes numbering should run on consecutively from one year to another, so each number is unique. If the numbers start again each year, the meetings must have a unique number or date reference.
You should use a standard format and number all paragraphs. Write minutes in the order of the agenda, even if the actual discussion happened out of order. Lay the minutes out clearly so actions stand out to readers.
Number the pages using the format '1 of 4'.
Language to use when writing minutes
Using the right tone of voice
Use reported speech when writing minutes and always use the past tense. Use the conditional tense, i.e: 'would' instead of 'will' and 'should' rather than 'shall' to show future action. Don't say 'The Chair thinks the policy needs changing', say 'The Chair thought the policy needed changing'.
Use the active voice, e.g. ' The committee agreed the minutes', rather than the passive, 'The minutes were agreed by the committee'.
Words and phrases to use
Use 'the previous day' or 'the following day', rather than 'yesterday' or 'tomorrow'. Use the phrase 'after discussion, it was RESOLVED that...' if many points were made which do not require minuting.
When referring to University Officers in minutes, use their role, e.g. 'the Dean' rather than their name, except in the attendance and apologies sections. 'The committee' is singular (as a collective) and not plural (i.e. use 'it' not 'they').
Committees RECEIVE and CONSIDER papers to reports, which they may formally NOTE, APPROVE or RECOMMEND action on to a superior committee. They may formally RESOLVE that something be ACCEPTED or ADOPTED, may REPORT the decisions made to another body and, less frequently, REFER BACK a paper should they not agree with what was PROPOSED.
Writing a 'resolved' paragraph
If the committee papers have been clearly written, a 'recommendation' paragraph can easily be used to become a 'resolved' paragraph. Make it clear that the committee has agreed to the minutes of the previous meeting or, if amendments were agreed, specify these in the minutes, e.g:
'The minutes of the previous meeting on 1 January 2014 were agreed, subject to the following minor amendment: Minute 205: addition of Professor J Bloggs in the list of those present.'
Make it clear when the committee has made a decision and when it will take effect, e.g:
'RESOLVED that the updated Criminal Convictions Policy be approved, with effect from September 2014.'
Make it clear when the committee is recommending an action to its higher committee where it does not have the power to make the decision itself, e.g:
'AGREED to recommend amendments to the terms of reference for the new Assessments sub-committee, as outlined in document S13/14-11, to Council for approval.'
Refering to relevant papers
Refer to the relevant paper number when minuting an item, and make it clear that it is noted on any papers for information, e.g:
- 'RECEIVED AND NOTED paper S13/14-11'
- 'RECEIVED AND NOTED the minutes of the Academic Programmes Committee on 9 March 2014, paper S13/14-12'
Minuting 'noted' information
Make it clear when the committee has simply noted some information, e.g:
'NOTED: that the University's recruitment figures were healthy and that the University would meet its target numbers.'
Minuting negative statements
If you need to minute a negative statement, make sure that it is clear wherever possible how the issue is being addressed, e.g an example of poor practice is:
'Professor Bloggs and Dr Difficult said that they had never agreed with the recent changes to the assessment rules and that the University was going to pot.'
This could be better phrased as:
'The committee noted that there had been some isolated issues with the implementation of the new assessment rules in one department, and a working group had been set up to analyse the issues and report back to the next meeting with recommendations for any proposed actions.'
Recording reserved area business
Anyone can ask the University to release any information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA). Be aware of this when you write minutes.
Separate the minutes into sections headed 'Open', 'FOIA Restricted' and 'Reserved area business'.
'FOIA Restricted' means the discussions may be exempt from disclosure to the public under one of the formal exemptions in the Act.
Read more about confidentiality and reserved business.