What to Write on a Performance Appraisal Form

Ok, it’s that time of year again – yes appraisal time. In this article I’m going to write about that part of the process which annoys, frustrates and irritates many managers more than any other – what to write on the appraisal form.

Of course, if you agree clear objectives at the beginning of the appraisal period, if you (and your employees) monitor performance against those objectives on an ongoing basis and if you hold regular performance review meetings, then writing the appraisal form is relatively easy. It’s then simply a summary of the review meeting discussions written in clear, evidenced – based, objective language. Say what? Ok, let’s break that last statement down a little.

How to write effective appraisal comments

The key to writing appraisal comments that are both useful to the employee and useful to the business is…


I could bore for England on the subject of clarity (and regularly do). Suffice to say your ability to explain clearly and concisely what the employee has done (or not done) in the appraisal period which has been particularly effective (or not) is crucial. Did you notice the word ‘done’? When we are appraising performance we are appraising what the employee has done to meet their objectives and, subsequently, contribute to the success of the business or organisation. So we need to write about actions, which means our comments will be…


In the same way that verbal feedback is only effective when we can provide samples and examples (i.e. ‘evidence’) comments on the appraisal form are the same. ‘Overall a good effort’ and ‘Takes pride in her work’ are not evidenced-based examples. Which means they are not…


Nothing, but nothing, upsets employees more than ‘gut reaction’ or ‘feelings based’ comments on an appraisal form. Comments that you, the manager, cannot show are objective and subsequently fair. Making evidence-based comments ensures objectivity. If you cannot provide evidence for a comment you make, then don’t use it. ‘Always willing to go the extra mile’ and ‘Needs to adopt a more positive attitude’ are not objective comments – they are your opinion and unless you have evidence to support your opinion you’re asking for trouble (or, at the least, a very frustrated or confused employee).

An Example

Let’s take a look at an example. You want to make a comment about how the employee has adapted to a recent change.

You could say Adapts well to change. The problem? This is one of those essentially meaningless statements. What does ‘adapts well’ actually mean?

Instead you could write:

Demonstrated an ability to adapt to change (e.g. the AYZ Implementation Project) by:

• Seeking the information needed in order to understand the AYZ implementation

• Planning to incorporate the new working methods into his working practices

• Actively seeking to experiment with the new working methods

• Evaluating the new methods and giving feedback on his evaluation

• Taking action to overcome any difficulties implementing the new methods

• Helping others to understand and apply the changes

Or, if you want a shorter version, something like.

Demonstrated the ability to adapt to change (AYZ Project) by; seeking information, planning, experimenting, evaluating, giving feedback, taking action to overcome difficulties and helping others


What we write on performance appraisal forms really matters to our employees. They want and need to see detailed, unbiased, fair comments that accurately describe their performance during the appraisal period. Your responsibility as a manager is to use clear, evidence-based, objective language in order to both meet those employee needs and provide accurate information for the business