Taking Notes When You are Totally Clueless

Julie Shenkman
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As an administrative assistant, you are tasked with taking a lot of notes. Sometimes you take notes during business meetings. Other times you take notes when your boss is describing a new project, all the while taking notes to keep track of your own tasks and responsibilities. However, sometimes you are asked to take notes when you are totally clueless about the subject at hand. This requires a special note-taking technique.

Even the best administrative assistant doesn't know everything. If you are in a business meeting and a client begins discussing a topic you are unfamiliar with, here is how to take effective notes.

First, write down everything that is communicated to the best of your ability. Use tricks to take notes more quickly, such as writing in shorthand or using symbols to represent people's names or project titles. The faster you take notes, the better you are at capturing even the information you don't yet understand.

If somebody uses a term you do not recognize, write it down. Spell it how it sounds, and make a star or another symbol in your notes to indicate that you need to look this term up later. With online searches, it is easy to figure out what a person is talking about even if you felt absolutely clueless during the conversation.

Do not be afraid of asking follow-up questions. As Business Management Daily notes, it is better to save follow-up questions until after the meeting is over. Do not interrupt the meeting to ask "What is the XYZ Project?" Instead, write up your notes after the meeting is over, and ask your boss any outstanding questions you still have about the information discussed.

Be smart and efficient with your follow-up questions. Do not ask "who is Mr. Jones?" unless you have already tried and failed to find Mr. Jones online. Likewise, asking your boss "what is this project" is less efficient than asking "what type of help do you need on this project?" Remember that your job is to provide assistance, and structure your questions toward that direction.

Lastly, keep in mind that not everything you hear in a meeting is important. Sometimes people start tangents or side discussions about unfamiliar topics, and only at the end of the meeting do you realize that those side topics were irrelevant to the main discussion. During the meeting, write everything down. After the meeting, revise your notes to eliminate the non-essential parts.

You might often find yourself taking notes when you feel totally clueless, but do not worry. Take your notes to the best of your ability, and use online searches and smart questions to fill in the gaps in your knowledge. When you take notes, be prepared to write down as much information as possible, especially if you do not understand everything. Afterward, revise your notes to contain only the important details.


Photo courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net



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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Eileen - I imagine some places would allow that where others won't. You would have to ask. It sure would make it easier to record it and then type up your notes as you listen to it. Otherwise, you just have to do the best you can. I have been in many meetings where the discussion was over my head - such as engineering discussions - but I did my best. Most bosses are understanding - at least with the first few meetings. After that, you should have an understanding of the lingo and be able to take notes with ease. At least that has been my experience! But, as @Susan mentioned - always ask first if you are able to record the meeting.

  • Louise Roberts
    Louise Roberts

    Very good.

  • Susan L.
    Susan L.

    This is right-on when my only resource is my pen and paper! Great tips that with practice, are habit for me. Remember to ask, before the meeting, if the meeting can be recorded.

  • Cathy Curbow
    Cathy Curbow

    My Boss allowed me to record. Best way to transcribe the minutes. It to capture all needed info.

  • Eileen Mandilakis
    Eileen Mandilakis

    Is there the possibilty to record the meeting so you can listen better then continually worrying that you missed something important.

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