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Well Written Meeting Minutes Are Mission Critical

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Minutes of meetings are important documents because they record in writing what was discussed in the meeting, and what decisions were actually made there. In organizations that maintain good practices, a review of the minutes of the primary management meetings over time would reveal an excellent record of the history of that organization.

During my 25+ years working in various organizations, there were many occasions on which I was tasked with either writing the minutes of meetings myself, or editing/approving minutes written by others. As a result, below are a few suggestions I have for you, should you ever be asked to write the minutes for any type of meeting.

5 Tips For Writing Good Meeting Minutes

1. Work From An Agenda
A meeting agenda that lists the main items to be discussed should be circulated to all potential attendees a few days (ideally) prior to the meeting so that they can make sure it is on their schedule and that they will have the necessary documents that will be needed to discuss the items listed. That very same agenda should be used by the meeting chairperson to conduct an orderly meeting. Keep this list short and focused! A good meeting should last no more than an hour. Anything more than that, and it becomes unproductive and a time-waster. Your colleagues will thank you for running a tight, short gathering.

2. Be Concise
Meeting minutes should NOT be a long-winded and verbatim “he said” – “she said” account of the meeting. They should briefly record only the essence of the major points discussed and/or major decisions reached, from a bottom line perspective. The key items to record are decisions made/deferred, the specific reasons for that decision, and most importantly who is responsible for any follow-up action.

3. Use Clear and Precise Language
Because minutes of meetings are an “official” record of corporate decisions made, they are often referenced many months later in order to recall what “exactly” was decided at a previous meeting. This makes clarity and precision of language very important when later trying to determine exactly what decision(s) was made and what specifically led to the decision.

4. Make the Right Person Responsible
In most organizations, a corporate “meeting secretary” is made responsible for organizing meeting logistics, drafting of minutes, and distribution of meeting-related documents such as agendas, minutes, and support documents. This is an important task; the person chosen for this should be well-organized with above-average writing skills.

5. Make Someone Else Accountable
Once the meeting secretary has drafted the minutes they should be carefully reviewed and revised if necessary, by the person who chaired the meeting. That individual, who will normally occupy a position of some responsibility in the organization, will then sign them off as “approved” before they are distributed by the secretary.

Well written minutes are critical to the effective functioning of organizations over time. Good minutes can be used as checklists for what has been achieved to-date in an organization, as well as action lists of what tasks have to be completed going forward. Making sure that your organization produces well written and meaningful meeting minutes will be an important element of its success.

 

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Secrets For Writing Better Business Reports

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Writing a business report can be one of the most difficult writing tasks we face, whether it’s for work business or school business. In fact, people often cringe at the thought of writing a business report. Granted, these are somewhat more complicated than business letters, but if approached in the right way, writing a business report can be a straightforward and reasonably painless process. So, to help people with their report writing I have put together a few tips that I have picked up over the years.

There are a number of different generic types of business reports including: general business report, business plan, business proposal, marketing plan, strategic plan, business analysis, project report, project analysis, project proposal, project review, financial plan, financial analysis, and others. Although the technical content and terminology will vary from report to report, depending on the subject and industry context, the actual “report writing process” will be essentially the same. It doesn’t matter if it’s a short 10-pager, or a major 100-plus pager, that process will involve the same fundamental steps.

The following seven points are what I consider to be the essential steps for writing any type of business report; whether it’s for your organization or for a school project. Follow these steps carefully and you won’t go wrong.

Confirm Exactly What the Client Wants

This is a very important initial step. Whether the client is a customer, a teacher, a professor, or someone else, be sure that everyone is talking about the same thing in terms of final outcome and expectations. When determining this, always think specifically in terms of the final deliverable (usually the final report). What issues must it address? What direction/guidance is it expected to give? What exactly will it contain? What bottom line are they looking for?

Determine What Type of Report Is Required

This is another very important initial matter to clarify. There are a number of different types of business reports. Although there is usually overlap among the different types, there are also important differences. For example, do they want: a business plan, a business proposal, a strategic plan, a corporate information management plan, a strategic business plan, a marketing plan, a financial plan, or what? Know exactly what type of final report is expected from the outset.

Conduct the Initial Research

Once you know exactly what the client (or you) wants, and the specific type of report they are looking for, you are ready to conduct your initial pre-report research. This stage may be as simple as collecting and reading a few background documents supplied by the client, or it could involve developing questionnaires and conducting detailed interviews with the appropriate people. It will vary with each situation. The Internet of course, can really simplify and shorten the research process, but don’t forget to double and triple check your sources.

Write the Table of Contents First

In my experience, drafting the Table of Contents (TOC), before you start writing the actual report is the single most important key to developing a successful business report. This document can normally be done before, or in parallel with, the first phase of project information gathering. This should be more than just a rough draft TOC. It should be a carefully thought out breakdown of exactly what you imagine the TOC will look like in the final report. Although this takes a certain amount of time and brain power up-front, it really streamlines the rest of the process. What I do is to actually visualize the final report in my mind’s eye and write the contents down. This really works! This TOC then becomes a step-by-step template for the rest of the process.

Sidebar:
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If you are writing the report for an external client, it’s a good idea to present the draft Table of Contents to them at this point in the process and get their approval. This will force them to think it through and confirm what they really want early on. Once they have agreed to a TOC you will have their buy-in for the rest of the process, therefore significantly reducing chances of any major changes or reversals at the final report phase.
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Do Additional Research

After thinking through the TOC in detail, you will know if any additional research is required. If yes, do this extra information gathering before you sit down and start to actually write the report. That way, once you begin the writing process you will have all of the information needed at hand and you will not have to interrupt the writing process to conduct any further research.

Write the Report by Filling In the Blanks

That’s right, by filling in the blanks. Once the TOC skeleton framework is in-place as per the previous step, writing the actual report becomes almost like filling in the blanks. Just start at the beginning and work your way sequentially through the headings and sub-headings, one at a time, until you get to the end. Really. At that point, with all of the preparation done, it should be a relatively straightforward process.

If you follow the above steps in the “report writing process” you will be amazed at how quickly your reports will come together. Give it a try – it really works.

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Never Write A Proposal From Scratch

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A very important lesson I have learned over the years is that one should never write any type of proposal document from scratch. It’s way too hard and just not necessary anymore. This is something I learned the hard way many years ago, after slaving away to write my first few proposals from a blank page. Since then, I have written thousands of business documents, including hundreds of proposals for many different situations without ever having to work from scratch.

In fact, the most effective way to develop a proposal is to work from a model that has already been created for another proposal submission situation. It also doesn’t need to be for the exact same situation; as long as it is along similar lines. I know from my various writing-related websites that there are five main proposal types that people seek help with online: grant proposals, business proposals, technical proposals, project proposals and sales proposals. Nevertheless, it turns out that it doesn’t matter very much (if at all) what type of proposal you are writing; the approach and basic structure will be very similar.

The important thing is to be able to use the approach and structure of the sample template that you work with as your guide for the new proposal that you need to draft. Using an already-proven template that matches your situation as closely as possible can have numerous benefits as follows:

• You will save significant time by not having to start from scratch.
• The template will act as a “checklist” to ensure you cover everything.
• A template will tend to stimulate your thinking and give you new ideas.
• You will know you are using an approach already used successfully by others.

In the end, using a previously developed proposal should give you a result that is even better than the model from which you are working.

Take a few minutes to do a web search for “free ____ proposal template,” where the blank is your specific project need. Bonus: switch your default search engine to use the Ecosia search engine and you’ll help the Earth by planting trees with every search you make.

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In Business Writing, Make Sure You Keep It Simple…

Something we notice on a regular basis when we read business letters, memos, reports, and other such documents is the use of unnecessary words to over-describe a situation or condition. These are known as redundant or superfluous words. It’s very easy to get into this bad habit when writing.

In fact, using two or three words when one will suffice can weaken your point rather than strengthen it. For effective written communication, we recommend that you make every effort to avoid using unnecessary words and phrases.

The following is a short sample list of some of the more common redundant words and phrases that we often see, alongside shorter alternatives:

absolutely essential ………………… essential
accounted for ………………………….. caused by
actual experience …………………… experience
attached please find ……………….. attached is
at your earliest convenience …… soon
consequent results …………………… results
despite the fact that ……………….. although
few in number …………………………. few
for the purpose of ………………….. for
free of charge …………………………. free
in advance of …………………………… before
in the process of being …………….. being
in the near future ……………………. soon
is suggestive of ………………………. suggests
make a decision to ………………….. decide
make the acquaintance of ……….. meet
mutual cooperation ………………….. cooperation
on behalf of ………………………………. for
on the grounds that …………………. since
perform an analysis of ……………… analyze
provided that ……………………………… if
take under advisement …………….. consider
under no circumstances ……………. never
until such time as ………………………. until
within the realm of possibility …… possible

We should mention that the words and phrases shown on the left-hand side above are not wrong. They are just a more cumbersome way of saying something that can be stated more simply. Nevertheless, for style reasons, there may be situations where the phrase shown on the left is more appropriate in a particular context. Or, there can be situations where one may choose to alternate between the two approaches, in order to avoid repetition.