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Effective meeting summaries

On March 22, 2016, I presented a session to RRU staff and faculty on how to write effective meeting summaries; please see below for an overview of the discussion that models the typical point form style of meeting summaries.

Meeting summaries vs. minutes

  • Meeting summaries are less formal documents that provide a less detailed, unofficial overview of a meeting e.g., attendees and key points or decisions.
  • Minutes are a formal, detailed, and official record of a meeting e.g., attendees, motions, debates, and decisions.
    - Meeting minutes may also reflect how the meeting was conducted e.g., Robert’s Rules of Order.

Reasons to summarize a meeting

  • Enables the author to reflect on and make sense of the discussion, as well as remember the meeting.
  • Inform other people about the meeting, either immediately or in the future. 

Before the meeting

  • If you are writing the summary for someone else, confirm your audience’s expectations for the document.
  • Determine if minutes will be taken at the meeting, and will you be able to refer to them when writing the summary?
  • If an agenda is provided, read it carefully to identify what details or decisions will be important.
  • Consider preparing a note-taking template to use during the meeting.

During the meeting

  • Listen versus hear: actively pay attention to the discussion and ignore other distractions.
  • Consider what is implied, partially said, or left unsaid; are these omissions significant?
  • While taking notes:
    - Be objective and impartial, especially if you will be summarizing the meeting for someone else.
    - Focus on recording ideas versus a transcript of the discussion.
    - Identify significant questions or decisions, and when relevant, where questions or decisions came from e.g., organizational level, department, individual

After the meeting

Write the summary as soon as possible to take advantage of your memory of the meeting:

  1. Review your meeting notes, and if possible, check them against the meeting minutes.
  2. Identify the themes in the notes, keeping in mind any relevant meeting or organizational contexts.
  3. Write a short, objective, point form overview of the themes.

Evaluating if the summary is effective

  • Will you or your reader be able to understand the important details of the meeting a year from now?
  • Have you met your reader’s expectation of the summary?
  • Is the summary clear, concise, and easy to understand? (See Concise Writing and the Writer’s Diet Test).

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator

(Originally published in Crossroads May 26, 2016)

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