Take Note

Tips to perfect your note-taking techniques

by Vicki Hart

This article was featured in January 2016’s Best Of Back to Basics edition.

The value of business records relies completely on the significance of their content. Meaningful and concise records that accurately reflect outcomes of meeting discussions and decisions can lend value by strengthening client business relations and providing good records to teach, communicate and promote project team knowledge.

In this ever-changing business environment, where technology leaps at breakneck speeds and the burden of completed records competes with valuable resources to support quality management requirements, fundamental skills for proper note-taking are essential.

Let’s explore steps you can take to be a more effective note-taker and produce notes that are streamlined and simple.

Do not overdocument. Avoid verbatim note-taking that distracts the reader from focusing on important objectives. Determine the relevance and importance of information according to meeting objectives. Present information in an objective and neutral tone. Recognize human empathy—focus on the intended audience and what it needs to know, not what you want to tell it.

Actively listen. The primary purpose for meeting notes is to capture verbal communication. Basic practices to use during meetings are to maintain a neutral frame of mind and to keep eye contact on the individual speaking. Instead of furiously scribbling when discussions occur, quickly capture notes immediately following the topic.

Summarize discussions to reach consensus. It is important to capture information accurately and completely. To avoid misunderstandings, restate information after the discussions are finished and clarify any questions that may arise. This helps participants reach consensus about the discussions and provides an opportunity to clear up any confusion before leaving the meeting.

Organize content. Organize notes to recap discussions and include a separate summary of decisions or outcomes that are independent of action items. Align notes with the meeting agenda. Conversations often drift away from the agenda topic and float between various discussions. Filtering "noise" is often one of the greatest challenges of note-taking.

Capture action items. Summarize action items and list respective owners and deadlines. This can be done as the action items are determined or summarized at the conclusion of the meeting.

Provide timely and accessible distribution. Retention of information and responsiveness to action items can affect performance when notes are provided in a timely manner. Organizing project meeting notes using file naming conventions for project records provide teams with easy access. For example: "Meeting_agenda_<Project_name>_<Date>" and "Meeting_notes_<Project_name>_<Date>."

Incorporate technology in the documentation process. Today, nearly all documents are created electronically. Laptops, tablets or other devices can be immensely helpful and save time when actively capturing meeting discussions as they occur. Impress meeting participants with the art of taking concise meeting notes that are completed and distributed by the end of the day.

Whether your role involves managing project teams, auditing business processes or facilitating client contract negotiations, good meeting notes reflect on successful outcomes. Effectively communicating client, project or team meetings starts with notes that provide a historical record of discussions and decisions, and provide direction on the next steps through action items. With good notes, you and your colleagues can move on to the next important step—following up on those action items.

Vicki Hart is the quality program development director at HDR Engineering Inc. in Omaha, NE. A senior member of ASQ, Hart is a certified quality auditor and a deputy director for ASQ Region 13.

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