Writing an Agenda

Learning Objectives

Describe the features of a meeting agenda.

  • After yet another strategic planning session that went nowhere and left all the participants confused about what they were supposed to be doing, Katy, a member of the planning committee at her college, made a solemn vow: “Never again will I attend or lead a meeting without an agenda.”
  • Jamal has a few coworkers who really like to hash things out in detail at team meetings. This week, the team spent more than half an hour debating whether to use email or text to communicate with coworkers about happy hour plans and never got to talk about the new platform architecture project. Jamal suggests, “Maybe we should start using an agenda to make sure we cover everything we need to in our meetings.”

As these examples make clear, an agenda is a hugely important document in meetings. But what is it?

An agenda is a document that outlines the goals and activities of a meeting, workshop, or event. Some agendas can be quite formal, adhering to a set template of items and procedures. Others are looser, acting as a basic outline for the meeting. Whether the agenda is formal or casual, its goals will be similar:

  1. State the objectives of the meeting.
  2. List the topics to be discussed.
  3. Outline a schedule for the meeting.

How to write an agenda[1]

  1. Start with the goals of the meeting: what do you want to accomplish overall? Which issues are particularly pressing? Is it a standing meeting (that is, happening every week or month), or was it called for a specific purpose?
  2. If appropriate, ask others for input. Some teams use a shared document like a Google Doc so that everyone can add to the team agenda.
  3. Make a list of topics or tasks. It can be helpful to phrase these topics as a question, rather than a bullet point. So, rather than just “balloons,” you would write: “Balloons: What kind? Who is buying them?”
  4. Identify the goal of each task. Typically, these goals will fall into three categories: convey information, get input, or make a decision.
  5. Identify how much time each list item will take to cover.
  6. Identify who needs to lead or be part of the discussion of each task—and make sure that they know they’re on the agenda.
  7. Leave time in each meeting for a wrap-up. The wrap-up should clearly state or reiterate any action items or assigned tasks: What needs to get done before the next meeting? Who needs to do it?

The agenda document

The document itself should cover all five W’s: When and where is the meeting, who needs to be there, why are you meeting, what will be discussed (and for how long)?

Sample Agenda (for a team in an engineering course)

ENGR 240 Meeting Agenda

Date: 11/19

Place and time: Butler 224

Members: Grâce, Joe, Kia, Farjad, Imraan, London, Damien

  • Updates from each team member (progress) (5 min each)
  • Develop work plan for upcoming week (15 min)
  • Determine next meeting time (5 min)
  • Work on Milestone 3 together (45 min)
  • Matters arising

Some agendas, especially for large organizations, follow a stricter format. The popular manual of parliamentary procedure Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised (RONR) outlines the following “standard order of business”:

  • Reading and approval of minutes
  • Reports of officers, boards and standing committees
  • Reports of special committees
  • Special orders
  • Unfinished business and general orders
  • New business[2]

The important thing to notice about this “order of business” is that it follows the same basic pattern as the informal agenda for the engineering team. First it looks backwards with the reports of the committees and the reading of minutes from the last meeting (for more about minutes, see the next page), then it considers the present with “unfinished business,” and then it turns to the future with “new business.” The engineering team’s agenda has a similar pattern: updates on progress (past), developing a plan for the upcoming week (present), and thinking about the next meeting and future work (future).


  1. Adapted from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-write-a-meeting-agenda
  2. Balch, Thomas J, et al. Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th Edition. United States, PublicAffairs, 2020. 41:5.