Committee Servicing

Minutes: Formal Content, Structure and Style

This section should be read in conjunction with the overview section on meeting followup and the section on Minutes: Principles and Purposes

What is recorded

A minute must record:

  • the paper reference numbers of documents which a Committee received at its meeting (including tabled papers)
  • the date and minute number of the previous consideration, if the business has been presented to the Committee before
  • key information reported orally which affected the decision
  • the decision itself, distinguishing accurately (and in line with the terms of reference) between those which are Resolved (ie usually a final decision), and those which are Recommended (decision usually to be made by the parent body of your Committee, or at a higher level)

A minute may also record discussion. The section Principles and Purposes covers some issues which are commonly relevant in deciding your approach to this. Information about the more formal presentation of discussion in minutes is set out in the section below under "Noted".

Headings and Keywords

Section headings in the agenda such as "Matters for discussion" or "Matters arising" are not included in the corresponding minutes, which are divided only by headings corresponding to the specific items on the agenda.

Below the item heading, each of which has a minute number, there are "keywords" (specialist sub-headings) within a minute to help distinguish at a glance inputs of information from what the committee did with these inputs, and from the outcomes. Four keywords are in use within the Goldsmiths committe system: Received, Noted, Recommended and Resolved, and they are always written in bold font.

Information: the "Received" keyword

"Received", if needed, appears at the beginning and indicates the main sources of information used, together with a paper number if the information was in written form. If there is no "Received" section, the paper number must appear at an appropriate point in another section. Please see the minute writing examples [29kb] page [pdf], section 2.

Discussion: use of the "Noted" keyword, and alternative approaches

Using the keyword/subheading "Noted" can be a useful subheading for recording key facts reported to the meeting, or opinions which can straightforwardly be expressed either in a short statement, or in a series of short statements which are fairly freestanding. Each of these facts/statements should be cast in the form of a clause introduced by "that", indented under the word "Noted", and labelled "(i)", "(ii)" etc if there is more than one (see note on Numbering below, and the minutes of Finance and Resources Committee of 4 May 2006 [20kb] [pdf] demonstrate this.) You could also consider a "mixed mode" approach where there are one or two introductory sentences, followed by a structured list of points with a more flexible structure than would be used with a "Noted" heading. Please see the minute writing examples [29kb] page [pdf], section 3.

In minuting discussion, you should distinguish between the views of the meeting as a whole and points supported by only one or two members (where this needs to be minuted at all), although not normally by naming the individuals concerned. The "continuous prose" approach can sometimes be the most helpful one where such differentiation needs to be made.

Some of the issues discussed in the section Minutes: Principles & purposes may help you decide which reported facts or arguments you should select when minuting discussion: it is important to focus on your best prediction of the uses to which the minute is likely to be put afterwards. Other things being equal, it is more important to include reported facts if they emerged at the meeting itself than if they were merely in the papers. Facts already in a circulated paper need only be minuted if it is otherwise difficult to make the minute meaningful as a whole, or if the minute is likely to be used extensively in isolation from the paper (for example if a slightly longer minute might save circulating the whole paper for some other meeting of your Committee or another one).

Outcomes: standard uses of the "Recommended" and "Resolved" keywords

The "outcome" subheadings, which come at the end of the Minute (but before any Secretary's Note), must be set out in a very formal way. They cannot be in continuous prose as it important that it should be clear at a glance where decisions are to be found, and whether the Committee is exercising powers of final decision or not, in line with the terms of reference. However, unless the discussion went in a completely different direction from what you and the Chair were expecting, you may already know more or less what the minute will look like (or at least that it will be one of two or three alternatives) from the stage of preparing the business for the meeting. If the business is straightforward and you have had time, you may even have drafted some of the minutes before the meeting: certainly this is advisable for any particular item which you will have to forward to another committee almost immediately.

The "Resolved" keyword normally marks where a final decision is being made, either because the Committee has powers of final decision under its terms of reference, or because a decision about the internal organisation of the Committee's business is being made. "Recommended" indicates that the Committee has taken a definite view on an issue but its parent body has power of final decision.

The order in which "Resolved" and "Recommended" material appears is whatever you judge logical in terms of the content, although it will often be most appropriate to start with "Resolved". (You should however normally group all "Resolved" outcomes together, and all "Recommended" items together.)

In neither kind of decision should a document be defined by reference to a URL on the College website, as this is likely to change within a few years, whereas a minute must be a permanent record. (It can however be very useful to include URLs for information in circulated papers.)

More Unusual uses of the keyword "Resolved"

"Resolved" can be used for passing business through an unusual route - generally sideways in the committee hierarchy tree, rather than upwards via the parent body. For example, in the (entirely fictitious) decision below, the Graduate School Board wishes to obtain advice from Research and Knowledge Transfer Committee (a Committee of Academic Board other than its parent body) on a matter of mutual concern.

Resolved:

t o ask Research and Knowledge Transfer Committee to comment on the proposals from the Research Council for Widget Sciences concerning the PhD (07-5), in terms of the likely impact of these proposals on the position of the College's Department of Widgets in the next Research Assessment Exercise.

If a committee has been asked to comment on a proposal in which it is not the main player, and where it may only be concerned with one particular aspect, the standard "Recommended" keyword will probably not seem appropriate, even when reporting to the parent body. A possible formula in this case is as in:

Resolved:

that no objection be taken to the proposal to set up a an International Research Centre for the Study of Early Modern Widgets, to be attached to the Department of Widgets.

Secretary's Notes

A Secretary's Note appears after the end of an individual minute. It consists of a brief factual statement in italics explaining any related supplementary decisions, or changes to the direction of the business which occurred soon after the meeting. The purpose is to prevent the minutes from misleading the reader by indicating an agreed course of action which was not pursued. Routine developments such as the outcomes of recommendations at the next meeting of the parent body should not normally be the subject of a Secretary's Note. Please see the minute writing examples [29kb] page [pdf], section 4.

Numbering and Minute References

The numbering of minutes need not follow the numbers or order of the agenda precisely. However it is useful if the order is fairly similar.

Minutes should be numbered sequentially with arabic numerals, starting at 1 at the beginning of each meeting (and not continuously through the successive meetings within an academic year, as was the house style up to 31 August 2010.) The keyword subheadings"Received", "Noted" etc do not themselves have numbers, or any sequential labelling, but within them any sequential labelling of points within a section should be (i), (ii), (iii) etc at the first level, and (a), (b), (c) etc at any further subdivision.  [See example of Format for minutes [12kb]

Never use automatic numbering/ordered lists at any level in minutes , as it is important that the numbering does not change when extracts are cut and pasted into other documents. (Microsoft Word has automatic numbering as a default setting: you need to suppress this by selecting (in successive menus) "Tools - - Autocorrect Options - - Autoformat as you type, and then unticking "Automatic Numbered lists".)

The system of numbering described above means that there may be several sequences of small Roman numerals, and perhaps of letters, within a minute. Therefore it is the arabic numerals only - used only at the top (whole minute) level - which should be used in minute references.

The following is an example of a minute reference:
(Academic Board (25 May 2005), Minute 6, refers)

When you are referring more generally to something which happened at a particular meeting of your own or another Committee (and are perhaps writing it before the (numbered) minutes have been issued), it is generally preferable to use the exact date (including the year unless it already appears in the same sentence), rather than vague terms such as "at its last meeting".

Tenses in minutes

The present and future tenses are never used in the main text of minutes (although the present is used in cross-references - see above). This is because Minutes are written from a point of view focusing on the meeting which is in the past, and all time references are relative to the point at which that meeting occurred.

Please see the minute writing examples [29kb] page [pdf], section 5.

URLs in minutes

URLs should be avoided in minutes, as the minute will be kept long after the webpage has moved or been deleted. In the future web-based applications are likely to be increasingly used for the archiving of minutes, and this creates problems if minutes contain old URLs which may appear in some systems as broken links.

Layout and format

Since it is normal practice to draft minutes by saving the agenda under a new name and modifying it, it makes sense to adopt general formats for agendas and minutes which result in the minimum number of trivial amendments (such as changes in fonts) being required.

Always use the current standard committee paper font, currently Arial 12.

Underlining has become the convention for hyperlinks, and its use is therefore best avoided in other contexts, given that committee material is increasingly being mounted on webpages in some form.

Automatic numbering and Tracking Changes should also be avoided. (This is dealt with in more detail in the section on Committee Record-keeping)

Format for minutes [12kb] [pdf]
[Note that there is no Word template for minutes, because a minute file should be created by saving the agenda file under a new name and modifying it appropriately.]

Content last modified: 20 Jan 2011

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