What Is Robert’s Rules?

In the world of parliamentary procedure, Henry Martyn Robert is a popular guy. His status was largely achieved with one book he wrote back in 1876, detailing rules for organizations about how to hold meetings and conduct business. And if you’ve never even heard of Robert, or his book, never fear. Here are eight fast facts on the world’s most well-known meeting rulebook—Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised.

1. What’s in a Name? 

Robert’s Rules goes by several names. History note: It was originally titled Pocket Manual of Rules of Order for Deliberative Assemblies. Today, the full title of the book is Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. It is often shortened as Robert’s Rules of Order, or just Robert’s Rules. In the industry, even an acronym—RROO or RONR—is enough to reference this resource.

2. Back in the Day

The book was first published by Henry Robert in 1876, but it’s been through multiple updates, and the most current printed version is the 12th edition. It’s never been out of print in nearly 150 years! The Robert’s Rules Association continues to manage all content and select the official authorship team for any revisions.

3. Nonfiction. Definitely.

Robert’s Rules is a reference book—full of information, processes, and rules. It’s not the sort of book you read start to finish like a novel. It’s a source you consult when you need official knowledge or help for running your meetings with decorum and structure. Within reference books, Robert’s Rules is subcategorized as a parliamentary authority—a resource which serves as a parliamentary procedure standard.

4. Ranked #1

The Robert’s Rules Association identifies Robert’s Rules as “America’s foremost guide to parliamentary procedure.” And it truly is the most common, well-known parliamentary authority—the rulebook which is most widely used by both legislative and non-legislative groups.

But just in case you’re the type that likes to consider all your options…. Robert’s Rules is not the only parliamentary authority out there. The AIP Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, first published in 1950, is another great alternative. Its simplicity makes it popular with many organizations.

5. Table of Contents 

Robert’s Rules helps organizations with parliamentary procedure basics: governance, bylaws, motions, debate, amendments, nominations, elections, the Chair, voting, committees, and more.

6. A Little Help Here

The newest version of Robert’s Rules (12th edition) is a valuable but very lengthy and dense book, available in paperback or hardback. So, if you need help understanding some of the more complex or challenging sections of Robert’s Rules, check out two additional resources: Notes and Comments on Robert’s Rules and Robert’s Rules of Order Fast Track. These supplemental helps can make the big, full book much more accessible.

7. Make It Work 

While it’s definitely advisable for an organization to pick a parliamentary authority they’re going to follow, such as Robert’s Rules, you should also consider adopting your own special rules that apply to your group specifically. Yes—it’s legal to use RROO and tailor things to fit your needs.

For example, Robert’s Rules states that in regard to debate or discussion, each person in a meeting is allowed to talk two times during a meeting, and for ten minutes each time. That could get lengthy. So, you may want to adopt a special rule further limiting debate by the number of times a person may speak or by the length of time a person may speak. Read here for more on supplementing your parliamentary authority with special rules.

8. For Good Reason

And if you’re still wondering whether it’s worth following a parliamentary authority like Robert’s Rules at all, let’s just go back to Mr. Robert’s original thought: He wanted to run a meeting with order—doing things efficiently, smoothly, and fairly—and he found there were no standardized guidelines for doing so. Hence, he created a book of rules that would give groups procedural guidance on how to conduct business well. Even taking into account the book’s most complicated parts, this approach seems to have worked well for almost 150 years.

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