Neonatal hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy continues to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among neonates around the globe. With the advent of therapeutic hypothermia, the need to accurately classify the severity of injury in the early neonatal period is of great importance. As clinical measures cannot always accurately estimate the severity early enough for treatment to be initiated, clinicians have become more dependent on conventional and amplitude integrated EEG. Despite this, there is currently no single agreed classification scheme for the neonatal EEG in hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy. In this review we discuss classification schemes of neonatal background EEG, published over the past 35 years, highlighting the urgent need for a universal visual analysis scheme. (C) 2011 International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology. Published by Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.