Meeting notes vs. minutes: what do you need for your meeting?
Whether you’re a note-taking pro looking to tighten up your current processes, or you’ve been tasked with writing meeting minutes in your organization for the first time, this article will help guide you to better practices and understand the *real* differences between meeting minutes and meeting notes.
Let’s dive in!
What are meeting notes?
Meeting notes are notes made during a meeting about important topics you discussed with your team members and can include key decisions, questions, summaries of talking points, and assigned action items and deadlines.
In short, meeting notes are informal and their main function is to remind you of the things you discussed and decided – both for yourself and any team member who might have missed the meeting.
You can use meeting notes as a personal reference, a meeting recap for team members or other stakeholders, or a place to record action items that’ll get everyone ready for the next meeting.
Tip: To take better meeting notes, try using sample meeting notes templates and familiarize yourself with common abbreviations (e.g. w/ for “with”, “imp” for “important,” “mgmt” for “management,” etc.)
What are meeting minutes?
Meeting minutes are a formal written record of the discussions held, motions proposed, and votes counted in a meeting. It could also include activities the organization is planning to implement.
Put another way, meeting minutes are legal documents and an official record of the actions the board or committee has taken, which means they’re “discoverable” during legal proceedings.
What’s the key difference between meeting minutes and notes?
The main difference between meeting minutes and meeting notes is that meeting minutes are formal documents while meeting notes are generally informal (even if they follow a common structure).
However, there are some similarities between the two: both can include action items, both are based on the meeting agenda, and both summarize meetings for posterity and recall.
However, minutes of the meeting usually have to follow a meeting minutes template, and they most often come with a separate meeting transcript attached.
Meeting notes, on the other hand, don’t have to follow a meeting notes template and generally only include the key takeaways of a meeting.
Simply put, you’d usually use meeting minutes in more formal meetings like a board meeting or a committee meeting, while you’re more likely to jot down meeting notes during any team meeting, 1-1, project sync, or sprint retro.
4 tips to take better meeting notes
Effective meeting notes aren’t just a way to have a nice record of what you talked about in a meeting. They enable you to:
better prepare for the next meeting
maintain continuity of discussion in recurring meetings, and
track action items (who said they’d do what and by when?)
To unlock these benefits, follow the below tips when you’re next writing meeting notes.
1. Follow an agenda
Yes, meeting notes are less formal than meeting minutes and you don’t *need* a special template to write them. But it does help to have some kind of roadmap.
The perfect guide for your meeting notes is your meeting agenda. If you’ve read our other articles on why meeting agendas are great, you already know that the key thing is to share them with invitees ahead of time.
You can do that with a Google Doc — or you can do it with Vowel. In Vowel, the meeting agenda turns into collaborative notes and is visible to all attendees during a video call, so everyone can contribute to the meeting notes in real time.
Following the meeting agenda means your notes will be structured around each topic covered — for each topic, you can include a summary of what was discussed, decisions, questions, and action items (or include a separate section for action items at the end).
2. Assign action items
A great way to promote accountability and keep track of tasks is by including specific action items in your meeting notes.
Meeting notes with specific action items are effective because they allow team members to stay on top of tasks and prioritize their workload.
Plus, they help project managers ensure that meetings are not a waste of time for participants and they have an actionable outcome.
Vowel makes it easy to assign action items – all you need to do is to add your action items to your shared notes, tag a task owner, and add a due date. What’s more, team members can see their current action items from their Vowel dashboard.
3. Check your notes after the meeting and structure them for easier access
Here’s a little secret about effective meeting notes: they might need a little finessing after the meeting ends.
To make the most of your notes, do the following right after a meeting, if you can:
Write a short high-level summary of the meeting
Give the notes a once-over to check if you captured all the important points
Format the notes by adding headers, bullet lists, and action items to enhance readability
Meeting notes in Vowel are easy to format using markdown (e.g. /heading, /action) so you have something you can easily reference after or copy and paste into your company’s internal knowledge base tool (e.g. Notion, Confluence).
And a post-meeting recap lets you easily add a meeting summary for everyone to see.
4. Create a system for storing and sharing notes with your team
The last step to making the most of meeting notes is obvious – share them with your team.
Notes are no good if they’re siloed and hidden away on your desktop or in some random folder that no one has access to or can find easily.
You can use cloud services like Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive to share notes — or you can simply use Vowel.
Vowel meeting notes live alongside all the other meeting-related data in the app, well organized in shareable folders for easy access with all meeting recordings and transcripts.
4 tips to write better meeting minutes
Taking thorough and properly structured meeting minutes takes practice — but don’t let that discourage you.
Follow these tips to make sure you produce effective meeting minutes that fulfill your organization’s requirements.
1. Choose a meeting minutes template
Because meeting minutes are a formal document, they do need to follow a template.
The point of having minutes is to provide clarity to team members and stakeholders about key decisions made by the board or committee, so you want the minutes from all of your board/committee meetings to have a similar structure.
There are several types of meeting minutes you can use, which will inform your choice of template:
Action minutes, also called decision-only minutes, only capture the conclusion or decision and not the discussion that led to it.
Discussion minutes are the opposite of action minutes. They provide a high-level view of the discussions that occurred, including significant points (while excluding personal comments).
Verbatim minutes are a word-for-word account of all discussions, votes, talking points, and action items that occurred during the meeting. Unlike action or discussion minutes, verbatim minutes focus on personal comments rather than overall discussions or decisions.
Whichever you choose, you need a good template so why not take a look at a few examples of useful templates?
2. Write down the meeting’s date, time, and attendees
Because the minutes of meetings are formal documents, you’ll want to include standard information every time, including the date and time of the meeting and the names of all invitees – both present and absent.
This is especially important for formal meetings because they usually have a quorum requirement – the minimum number of people who must be present for decisions made to be valid.
Additionally, having a list of people who were present means that if someone has a question about an action or an agenda item after the meeting, they can easily find out who to ask about it.
3. Include the meeting’s purpose
Productive meetings are meetings with a purpose.
Anyone revisiting a meeting’s minutes will get oriented with the content much faster if those minutes include the purpose/goal of the meeting.
To write down the meeting purpose as clearly and precisely as possible, try to phrase it as a question. Instead of saying the purpose is “discuss company policies” try “How can we implement changes in our strategic direction and update outdated company policies in 2023?”
4. Share assigned roles and supporting documents
At most meetings, and especially the formal ones, there are assigned roles such as note-taker and timekeeper. For recurring meetings, teams usually rotate the role assignments to keep things fair.
To help everyone prepare and remind them whose turn it is, include the assigned roles for the next meeting in the meeting minutes of the previous meeting.
If during the meeting, you referenced reports, white papers, articles, and any other kind of documents, include them in the meeting minutes. This will give the person reading them the necessary context and information to understand the discussion points without having to search for these resources.
Keep better notes and minutes with the right software
Meeting notes and minutes both have their place as useful records of what you discussed and the decisions you made in your meetings, whether they were formal or part of your day-to-day operations.
However, keeping proper records is not an easy job. It takes planning, practice, and time to make the most of it. Vowel can help you with automated meeting minutes and other key features.
Recording meetings is easy (it’s built-in, no plug-ins needed) and it turns on live transcription:
Then there are collaborative agendas and notes (time-stamped to the transcript) and an AI-powered summary of the key takeaways. Best of all? The summary, notes, transcript, and recording are viewable for all meeting attendees from one place (no downloading or searching around).
It’s time to ditch the Zoom add-ons and MP4 recordings and turn your meetings into a searchable, shareable knowledge base. Try Vowel for free or see how we stack up against other meeting minutes software.