Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised In Brief, 3rd edition


By Henry M. Robert

By Daniel H. Honemann

By Thomas J. Balch

By Daniel E. Seabold

By Shmuel Gerber

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A short, concise and user-friendly guide to the essential procedures of conducting a meeting, written by the authors of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, the only authorized edition of the classic work on parliamentary procedure

Originally published in 1876, General Henry M. Robert’s guide to smooth, orderly, and fairly conducted meetings has sold over six million copies in eleven editions. Robert’s Rules of Order is the book on parliamentary proceedings, yet those not well versed on what has now become a rather thick document can find themselves lost-and delayed-while trying to locate the most important rules. The solution? Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief.

Written by the same authorship team behind the officially sanctioned Robert’s Rules of Order, this short and user-friendly edition takes readers through the rules most often needed at meetings–from debates to amendments to nominations. With sample dialogues and a guide to using the complete edition, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised in Brief is the essential handbook for parliamentary proceedings.


Part I





How many times have you been to a meeting that didn’t go well? Did it seem that the chair didn’t keep order? Was there a feeling that something was “railroaded”? Did it take an interminable amount of time to settle the simplest things? What was wrong?

When people want to do something as a group, they must first agree on exactly what it is they want to do and how they want to go about it. In other words, they must work together to make some decisions. Sometimes it may take some zeroing in even to get at the “what?” At other times, the “what?” may be generally understood and the necessary decisions may involve the “how to?”

If there are only three or four persons in the group, you are right if you wonder why they should need a book like this. Common sense tells us that all they need to do is sit down in one room as people bent on working out where they want to go in a courteous spirit without wasting anyone’s time. They should all try to agree; but if they can’t and a majority want to go ahead with something, the group may want to have an understanding that the majority’s will should prevail. Whoever is taking the lead may want to note down what has been decided and provide each person with a copy.

But make it even a half dozen people who are meeting in this way, and you will soon see the need for at least some formal control. Too many people may try to talk at once. Some may not be able to get a word in edgewise. People may wander off the subject—or may even lose sight of what the proper subject is. And if things aren’t handled right, they may come out of the meeting with different understandings of what was or was not agreed to.

To prevent this, you will need to pick one person to “chair” the meeting—to designate who may speak at any given time and to see that the discussion narrows down to specific, precisely worded proposals. These should be recorded, and should be voted on unless there is obvious total agreement.

When the gathering reaches a size of about 12 to 15 persons, another threshold is crossed. At that point, the meeting becomes essentially “full scale,” with a need for tighter, more formal, more carefully developed control. A certain paradox appears. In order to preserve its freedom to act, the body must impose regulation.

The needed control must not only “keep order.” It must of course be geared to getting the business done and resolving any issues that may arise along the way. But—even more important—it must do these things in a way that’s fair to everyone taking part in the process. And in this there’s more than may meet the eye.

Control of this kind naturally must be imposed by the person who conducts the meeting—generally called the chairman. There are a multitude of details that must be determined through him or her. Who gets to speak when? How is the meeting to be kept on track? What if discussion tends to go on forever? How is intense disagreement to be handled? How can business best be put through when there is no disagreement? What if a proposal appears to be not yet in shape for a yes-or-no decision? And in a group like a club that has a continuing existence, how is business to be carried over from one meeting to the next if that seems desirable? All these things and many more are potential stumbling blocks when a large number of people are involved.

Whoever is chairman will soon come up against a significant fact of life related to gatherings of this kind. In them, it is virtually impossible for any human being to perform the function of chairman fairly under all the situations that may arise, without a considerable body of established rules to go by. No one can do it just out of his or her own head.

Parliamentary procedure is a tradition of rules and customs for dealing with these problems. A bit of it goes back as far as the ancient Greeks. But its basic content was mainly formed by centuries of trial and error in the English Parliament, from which the name “parliamentary procedure” comes.

Not everyone may realize that the organizations most of us get involved in at some time or other are essentially similar to great legislative assemblies in an important way. They all meet to consider and decide on actions to be taken. For this reason, they are all known as deliberative assemblies.

Major law-making bodies usually develop their own particular rules. This is largely impractical, however, in ordinary organizations as far as rules of meeting procedure are concerned. Each group of this kind obviously must work out its own structure. But things work best if most of the rules for making decisions in meetings are the same from group to group. It would be worse than burdensome if one had to use different rules for deciding matters every time he or she took part in a different organization. By general understanding in our culture, parliamentary procedure fills the role of supplying this needed common body of rules.

Although originally derived from practices in the English Parliament, parliamentary procedure as it exists in America today has gradually evolved somewhat differently. Henry Martyn Robert (1837–1923), a distinguished engineer who retired from the U.S. Army as a brigadier general, had considerable influence on this development. A self-taught, in-depth student of the subject who was active in many organizations, he first published his Robert’s Rules of Order while a major in 1876. It rapidly became accepted as the standard authoritative work on meeting rules—so much so that when people talk about using correct procedure in a meeting, they often speak of doing it “according to Robert’s Rules.”

As Henry Robert first conceived his book, he wanted it to be brief and simple enough to serve as a guide in the hands of every meeting-goer. He thought it might run to about 50 pages. By the time the first edition was published, he found he needed 176. Following its publication, letters asking questions about parliamentary situations not clearly answered in the book began to pour in—by the hundreds through the years.

Consequently, over time, he was obliged to add more and more pages to answer the most common of these questions. Robert himself repeatedly revised his 1876 book. In accordance with his expressed wishes, his son, his widow, and his daughter-in-law all carried on the work after his death. His grandson Henry M. Robert III was, until the latter’s death in 2019, among the team of parliamentarians (as experts in these rules are called in this country) chosen by his descendants to continue the updating and revision of the book. The manual is now in its twelfth edition, under the title of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised—commonly abbreviated RONR.1

RONR, the complete rule book, now contains 633 pages of text, plus tables and charts. All of its content has to be there because it may be needed, and has at some time come up as a question of procedure somewhere. RONR is designed as a reference book providing, as nearly as possible, an answer to any question of parliamentary procedure that may be met with.

But the average person doesn’t have to know all this to be able to function effectively in most ordinary meetings, or even to chair one. At least 80 percent of the content of RONR will be needed less than 20 percent of the time.

For one who will brave it, RONR is written to serve as a self-explanatory text that can be read through, with topics presented in an order that will best convey an overall understanding of the entire subject matter. You need not apologize, however, if you find that to be a bigger project than you would like to take on at this point. If you simply want to know how to get by in a meeting or as a club president, this brief book is for you.

The commonly needed basics of parliamentary procedure are well within the grasp of any person of ordinary schooling. By reading this book, you can learn them easily, step by step. For those to whom parliamentary procedure has seemed something of a mystery, this book should quickly bring that to an end.

It is important to understand, though, that this introductory book is not itself the rule book. Only the complete Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised—RONR—is that. To keep to the framework of a simple guide, this book omits a great many rules, avoids certain subject areas altogether, and doesn’t get into many exceptions to the rules it does include. It is the rules in RONR that govern, and nothing in this book may be cited instead of or in conflict with RONR. To help ready reference to the complete rules, each subject covered here is cross-referenced to its fuller treatment in RONR. By reading this book you will learn how to find the additional rules in RONR if you need them.

Because this book is only an introduction and guide to RONR, it is not itself suitable for adoption by any organization as its “parliamentary authority”—the book of rules the group names to govern its meeting procedure. If any organization designates this book as its parliamentary authority, it actually adopts the current edition of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

A prime value of parliamentary procedure is that it provides processes through which an organization, large or small, can work out satisfactory solutions to the greatest number of questions in the least amount of time. It can do this whatever the detail or complexity that may be involved. It makes meetings go smoothly when everyone is in agreement, and allows the group to come to decisions fairly when issues are bitterly contested.

A chairman should never be stricter than is necessary for the good of the meeting. But, within that pattern, parliamentary procedure should normally be followed as a matter of course if it is to work well. It’s not something to look to only when you get into trouble.

Robert’s Rules of Order has brought order to millions of meetings. Yet it has more to offer us if the core of its content can penetrate more deeply into our culture. Every parliamentarian has heard many stories of meeting participants finding themselves helpless in the face of badly, ineptly—even unfairly—run meetings. All this need not be! Effective meetings could become the universal rule, if an elementary knowledge of the accepted rules that govern them were to become the common property of most people, as—for example—are the rules of baseball. The authors hope this brief book will play some part in bringing about that result.

Now let’s start at the beginning, with what happens in a meeting.

Footnotes to Chapter 1

1. This is the standard abbreviation parliamentarians use to cite Henry M. Robert III and others, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised, 12th ed. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2020). The standard citation to particular paragraphs in the current edition is, for example, “RONR (12th ed.) 13:1” [referring to the first paragraph in section 13] or “RONR (12th ed.) 13:1–6” [referring to paragraphs 13:1 through 13:6 in section 13].

Part II






A. The Roles of the Presiding Officer and the Secretary

B. Quorum

C. A Standard Order of Business

1. Reading and Approval of Minutes

2. Reports

3. Unfinished Business

4. New Business

D. Agenda: An Alternative to Following a Standard Order of Business

E. Adjournment, Recess, and Standing at Ease


To keep order, one person is chosen to preside over the meeting. This person enforces the rules and designates who is to speak at any given time. The presiding officer may be elected specifically for the meeting, and is then called the chairman.1 More commonly, he or she is elected to serve for a term of a year or more, with a title such as president. While actually presiding, the presiding officer is called “the chair.”

To make a written record of what is done, usually called the minutes, a secretary is elected.2


In most organizations that have regular meetings, many members are often absent. The organization should not be bound by decisions taken by an unrepresentatively small number of members who might attend a meeting. To prevent this, a quorum—a minimum number of members who must be present—is required for a meeting to conduct substantive business.

Organizations usually decide what should be the quorum required for their meetings.3 If an organization fails to do this, then—with some exceptions—the quorum is a majority of the members. (“Majority” means more than half.4)

When no quorum is present the meeting can do only a very limited number of things, such as set the time and place for another meeting. Any substantive action taken in the absence of a quorum is invalid.5 Even when a meeting begins with a quorum present, it loses its right to conduct substantive business whenever enough members leave to bring attendance below the level of a quorum. It can resume substantive business only when enough members return, or other members arrive, to give it a quorum again.


A meeting begins when it is called to order by the presiding officer. The chairman or president takes his or her place and says in a clear voice, “The meeting will come to order.” There may then be opening ceremonies, such as saying the Pledge of Allegiance. Most meetings follow a traditional order of business. Simplified,6 this includes:

1. Reading and Approval of Minutes

The chair says, “The Secretary will read the minutes.” When the secretary has read them, the chair says, “Are there any corrections to the minutes?” Normally, corrections are made without objection, but if there is a dispute there can be debate and a vote on the proposed correction. Thereafter, the chair says, “If there are no [further] corrections, the minutes are approved.”

Only after the minutes of a meeting are approved in this way do they become the official record of what happened. Often, the secretary sends out draft minutes of the previous meeting before the meeting at which they are to be approved. If this happens, they don’t have to be actually read at the meeting unless a member insists. When draft minutes have been sent to the members, the chair might begin by saying, “The minutes of the previous meeting have been distributed. Are there any corrections to the minutes?” [RONR (12th ed.) 41:9–12.]

2. Reports

The assembly then hears reports from officers, boards, and committees of the organization. (More about boards and committees in Chapters 6, 18, and 19.) The chair might say, for example: “May we have the Treasurer’s report?” “The chair recognizes the chairman of the Membership Committee for a report.” “Does the Program Committee have a report?”

Often, these reports just give information. Sometimes, however, they include recommendations for action by the assembly. These recommendations are then considered by the group—debated and voted on—at the end of the report containing them. [RONR (12th ed.) 41:13–17.]

3. Unfinished Business

Following reports, the group moves on to consider items of business, if any, carried over from the previous meeting. The chair should bring these matters up automatically, normally beginning with any unfinished item that was in the middle of being considered when the previous meeting adjourned. For example, the chair might say, “Under unfinished business, the first item of business is the motion7 relating to…, which was pending when the last meeting adjourned. The question is on the adoption of the motion [stating the motion]…. [After this item has been disposed of:] The next item of business is….”

In a properly conducted meeting, there is no type or class of business called “old business.” It is a common mistake for the chair to call for “old business” and under that incorrect category to allow members to bring up again matters that were considered at earlier meetings or matters for which there was merely an informal suggestion that they should be brought up at the present meeting. In fact, what properly come up under the correct category, “unfinished business,” are:

1) the item (if any) that was actually in the process of being considered when the last meeting adjourned, followed by

2) any items that were scheduled to come up at the last meeting but were not reached before its adjournment, in the order these were due to come up at that meeting. [RONR (12th ed.) 41:23(a–c). See also footnote 1 on page 53 of this book.]

4. New Business

The chair asks, “Is there any new business?” New items may then be brought up by any member, using the procedure—making a motion—described in the next chapter. [RONR (12th ed.) 41:27.]


Instead of following a standard order of business, a group may adopt an agenda. An agenda sets out the order in which specific items are to be considered, and sometimes sets exact times for their consideration. Frequently, the president presents a draft agenda, but to be binding it must be adopted by the group at or soon after the start of the session.8 The group may make any changes it wishes before voting to adopt it. [RONR (12th ed.) 41:58–69; see also q. 14 on p. 120 of this book.]


When the meeting has completed its work, the chair says, “Is there any further business? … Since there is no further business, the meeting is adjourned.” To adjourn means to close the meeting. Even if there is still business that has not been completed a majority may vote to adjourn.9

When the group wishes to take a short break from a meeting, it may vote (by a majority) to recess. The proposal to recess may set a time, as in, “recess for five minutes.” Or it may be to “recess until called to order by the chair,” which leaves it up to the presiding officer to decide when to end the recess and resume the meeting. [RONR (12th ed.) 8:2(3), 20:1–10.]

The chair may cause a brief pause in the proceedings, if no member objects, by directing the group to stand at ease. This means that members remain in their places, perhaps talking quietly, until the chair again calls the meeting to order. [RONR (12th ed.) 8:2(4).]

Footnotes to Chapter 2

1. “Chairman” is the long-established usage. Several variations—such as “chairperson” or “chair”—are now frequently used.

2. The presiding officer and the secretary are the minimum essential officers. RONR (12th ed.) 3:6–8. Minutes are explained in Chapter 16 of this book and more fully in RONR (12th ed.) 48:1–16.

3. An organization specifies its quorum in its bylaws, which are explained in Chapter 10.

4. See also q. 4 on p. 115 of this book.

5. RONR (12th ed.) 40:1–12. See, however, RONR (12th ed.) 10:54–57 for the ratification of action taken without a quorum.

6. In fact, the “standard” order of business is a little more complicated. For full details, see RONR (12th ed.) 3:16, 41:5–36. Organizations may prefer to adopt their own order of business, adapted to the specific needs of the group. RONR (12th ed.) 2:16.

7. “Motions” are explained in the next chapter.

8. If the session is not already controlled by an order of business, then a majority vote is sufficient to adopt an agenda. In other circumstances, a greater vote may be required. See RONR (12th ed.) 41:61.

9. For other ways to adjourn, see RONR (12th ed.) 21:1–20.





A. The Meaning of “Motion”

B. How You Get to Speak at a Meeting

C. How a Motion Gets Before a Group

1. How to Make a Motion

2. “Seconding” a Motion

3. The Chair “States” the Question

D. How the Group Considers a Motion

1. Debate on the Motion

2. The Chair “Puts” the Question

3. The Chair Announces the Result of the Vote


The primary purpose of the sort of meeting that uses rules of order is for the group to make decisions. It may decide on anything from taking a position on a major public issue to organizing a pet show. To begin the process of making any decision, a member offers a proposal by making a motion. A motion is a formal proposal by a member, in a meeting, that the group take certain action. [RONR (12th ed.) 3:22.]

A main motion is one whose introduction brings business before an assembly. Strictly speaking, there should be no debate on a matter before a motion regarding it has been made. Only one main motion may be before the assembly for action at a time. [RONR (12th ed.) 4:7–8, 6:1, 10:1.]


In order to make a motion or to speak in debate, you use the same procedure: You stand up immediately after the previous speaker has finished and call out “Madam President,” “Mr. Chairman,” or whatever the chair’s title may be. The chair designates you as the next speaker, or recognizes you, normally by calling out your name or title, saying, for example, “Mr. Jackson,” or “The delegate from Clayton County,” or sometimes (in a small meeting) simply by nodding to you.

When you are authorized to speak in this way, you are said to have the floor. When finished, you sit down, and thus yield the floor. [RONR (12th ed.) 3:30–35, 42:1–5.]


1. How to Make a Motion

To make a main motion, after obtaining the floor you simply say, “I move that …” and then clearly describe the proposal. For example, “I move that the Tennis League establish a division open to juniors and seniors enrolled in city high schools.”

It is very important to say precisely what the words of the motion are to be. The group votes on exact language, not on a vague idea. In the end, each motion has to be written down in the minutes. It is the secretary’s job to copy the motions down accurately—not to come up with language he or she thinks is what the group or the mover meant.

The chair can require that main motions be submitted by the mover in writing. [RONR (12th ed.) 4:18.]

In fact, it is a good practice to write out any motion you propose and make copies to give to both the president and the secretary. A long or complex motion should always be written out and handed to the secretary.

After making a motion, you immediately sit down. You wait until later to give your reasons for making the proposal. [RONR (12th ed.) 4:4–8.]


On Sale
Sep 1, 2020
Page Count
224 pages

Henry M. Robert

About the Author

Henry M. Robert III (1920-2019), grandson of General Robert, began his association with Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised in writing the 1970 edition and participated in writing six editions, culminating in this 12th edition. He served as parliamentarian of the National Association of Parliamentarians and multiple other national and international organizations.

Daniel H. Honneman, a Maryland attorney, now retired, is a past President of the Maryland Association of Parliamentarians.

Thomas J. Balch is a practicing parliamentarian who formerly acted as a Washington, DC-based lobbyist and legislative analyst. He has served as parliamentarian of the NAP.

Daniel E. Seabold is a mathematics professor at Hofstra University specializing in logic and set theory.

Shmuel Gerber, a professional parliamentarian and copyeditor, has served as the Assistant Editor of the National Parliamentarian.

Learn more about this author