The Basics

Good notetaking is the most essential skill for good documentation.

We’ve listed some best practices below but the truth is, the best notes are the notes that help you record accurate information.

What to Pack

  • Something to take notes—whatever you are most comfortable using

Assignment Requirements

  • See our notes template for instructions
  • Submit your notes, summary and follow-up questions within 24 hours after the meeting ends

Example Meeting Notes

Example #1
Example #2
Example #3

Notetaking Tips: Make the most of your time

  1. Note the most information in a way that works for you—feel free to abbreviate, use shorthand or draw. Just be sure to organize and revise for your readers after the meeting
  2. Make a conscious effort to listen and learn; be accurate and hear different perspectives
  3. Record audio and timestamp (i.e. jot down times for) portions you want to double-check
  4. Use your time efficiently—submissions are due 24 hours after the meeting ends because your notes are best when they’re fresh. Be thorough but concise––you can’t get everything, but you’ve been trained to do this. You deserve to be here. Be confident in your abilities and embrace the learning process.

Suggested Checklist

  • Count or estimate the number of attendees (not including officials)
  • Log what time the meeting started
  • Include names of presenters at the meeting, including titles and affiliations
  • Describe at least three stated goals of the meeting
  • Describe the main concerns of attendees and why those concerns were raised
  • Describe or list next steps and solutions presented at the meeting
  • Name and quote community members who spoke or presented at the meeting— you may need to approach them after the meeting to ensure you have their names spelled correctly
  • Note features of the room and the overall environment of the meeting
  • Recommended: Take photos and/or audio or video recording of the meeting. Feel free to move about the room to capture the best images.
  • For digital notes only: Add links to news stories, research reports, previous meetings notes and related governmental websites in your text

Revision tips: Make your notes shine

  • Are your notes reasonably complete?

    • Refer to any handouts you picked up at the meeting—they may contain ordinance numbers, board member names and other important details
    • Spell out abbreviations in your notes
    • Previous meetings or relevant themes may have been covered in the news. Check out reliable news outlets for additional context and hyperlinks
  • Are your notes reasonably accurate?

    • Check facts and spelling in your notes
    • “Use quotation marks around words that are not your own” and identify the speaker or include a hyperlink to the Internet source
    • Listen back to audio timestamps to get exact quotes
    • Read more on how to avoid plagiarism and why it’s complicated
  • Section headers by topic can help your reader process your work. Here are some sample headers you can use to arrange your notes and make them more easily readable:

    • The Scene | Nervous energy in the room? Were people excited? Tell us why
    • Community Perspective | Public comments and concerns
    • Goals | Stated goals of the meeting or big-picture focus of the agency
    • The Debate | Disagreements on the major issues and potential solutions at play
    • Policies | Agenda and action items, presented policies, ordinances or amendments
    • Outcomes | Successes, solutions and/or next steps

Summary and follow-up tips: Distill the important parts

Briefly list 3-5 of the most important discussions, policies or outcomes of this meeting and up to 3 of your own follow-up questions. Think of this as a preview for readers—consider what is “newsworthy.” What’s the most important thing people need to know, what’s second and third most important thing? Each bullet point should be no more than 1-3 sentences. Remember, the bulk of your notes should be written in the “Notes” section.

  • Example—policy/outcome:

    • The Impact Equity fund is up 1.9% since September, and the budget is down $60,000 from the previous year.
    • The Black Caucus’s proposal to delay sales of recreational marijuana was defeated, with several Black Caucus members reversing their positions after a private meeting. Alderman David Moore left the Black Caucus after these reversals.
    • 4 new board members were confirmed: Stacy James, Thomas Sinclair Jr., Fernando Aguilar and Flint Marsden.
  • Example—follow-up question:

    • How will the county follow up on and ensure that the Minority/Women-Owned Business Enterprise (MWBE) requirements for this planned development are fulfilled?
    • Has or could a community create a hyperlocal property tax district to sustain affordable housing in a gentrifying neighborhood?
    • Is it really necessary for the full City Council to vote to permit a restaurant to put up signage or have sidewalk seating?

Using Google Docs

You may take notes in whatever format you like, however, the final submission must be typed or copied and pasted in the Google Doc shared via email when you are assigned.

  • Use a Gmail account when you sign up with Documenters or create a Google account for an existing, non-Google email.
  • Access the Google Doc any time by clicking on the link in the email or the thumbnail on your Documenters.org assignment page.
  • Learn more about how to use Google Docs.