Minutes, also known as protocols or, informally, notes, are the instant written record of a meeting or hearing. They typically describe the events of the meeting, starting with a list of attendees, a statement of the issues considered by the participants, and related responses or decisions for the issues.
Minutes may be created during the meeting by a typist or court reporter, who may use shorthand notation and then prepare the minutes and issue them to the participants afterwards. Alternatively, the meeting can be audio recorded, video recorded, or a group's appointed or informally assigned Secretary may take notes, with minutes prepared later. Many government agencies use minutes recording software to record and prepare all minutes in real-time.
For private organizations, it is usually important for the minutes to be terse and only include a summary of discussion and decisions. A verbatim report is typically not useful. The minutes of certain groups, such as a corporate board of directors, must be kept on file and are important legal documents.
The recording of minutes for public meetings and governmental hearings follows prescribed rules. Often speakers' words are recorded verbatim, or with only minor paraphrasing, so that every speaker's comments are included. This is generally required at public hearings that are called to address a particular issue. Many government agencies will record verbatim minutes for all council meetings.
Publicly held companies are generally required to keep minutes of the proceedings of: (a) general meetings, (b) meetings of the Board of Directors and (c) meetings of committee of the Board of Directors.
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Generally, minutes begin with the name of the body holding the meeting (e.g., a committee), place, date, list of people present, and the time that the chair called the meeting to order. Attendees are sometimes assigned initials (e.g., JD for Jane Doe) and referred to by these initials in the main body of the minutes. The minutes then record what was actually said at the meeting, either in the order that it was actually said or in a more coherent order, regardless of whether the meeting follows any written agenda. Another format, which is not used as much, records the events in the order they occur on the written agenda, regardless of the actual chronology.
Meeting minutes can also be recorded in customized templates that represent the standards established by that organization.
Since the primary function of minutes is to record the decisions made, all official decisions must be included. If a formal motion is proposed, seconded, passed, or not, then this is recorded. The voting tally may also be included. The part of the minutes dealing with a routine motion might note merely that a particular motion was "moved by Ann and passed unanimously". It is not strictly necessary to include the name of the person who seconds a motion. Where a tally is included, it is sufficient to record the number of people voting for and against a motion (or abstaining), but requests by participants to note their votes by name may be allowed. If a decision is made by roll call vote, then all of the individual votes are often recorded by name. If it is made by general consent without a formal vote, then this fact may be recorded. Tallies may be omitted in some cases (e.g., a minute might read "After voting, the Committee agreed to...").
Minutes typically include whether a report was presented, a legal issue was discussed (such as a potential conflict of interest), if a particular aspect of an issue was considered, or that a person arrived late (or left early) at a particular time. The minutes may end with a note of the time that the meeting was adjourned.
Minutes are sometimes submitted by the person who is responsible for them (often the Secretary - not the typist) at a subsequent meeting for review. The traditional closing phrase is "Respectfully submitted" (although this is no longer common), followed by the officer's signature, his or her typed (or printed) name, and his or her title.
If the members of the committee or group then agree that the written minutes reflect what happened at the meeting, then they are approved, and the fact of their approval is recorded in the minutes of the current meeting. If there are significant errors or omissions then the minutes will be redrafted and submitted again at a later date. Minor changes may be made immediately, and the amended minutes may be approved "as amended". It is normally appropriate to send a draft copy of the minutes to all the members in advance of the meeting so that the meeting is not delayed by a reading of the draft.
Minutes also record if a task has been assigned ("an action") and to the specific person responsible for completion. The deadline for the task can also be included in the minutes. Reviewing past actions is typically an important part of meeting agendas.
- Henry Campbell Black, Black's Law Dictionary, 6th Edition, entry on Minutes. West Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1991.