Writing Comments


Sitting down to write comments and notes in an employee’s appraisal can be a daunting task for even the most experienced manager. Whether or not an employee needs improvement, it’s never easy to start typing. Managers often find themselves staring at a blank page and wondering where to begin or Googling sample comments to get ideas. Not only do managers need to be eloquent and clear in their comments and input, they also need to have solid documentation and accurate references. This pressure makes the whole thing quite intimidating, especially if it’s only happening every 12 months.

So how can we make this historically torturous task easier for managers and how can we give them help and confidence that their comments are bang-on? This post will take a look at why writing employee appraisal comments can be hard and how performance management tools can help make things much, much easier.

The Challenge of Writing Good Employee Appraisal Comments

While there are any number of different reasons why a manager may struggle with writing comments in an employee’s appraisal, there are a few common roadblocks that are often the cause:

Managers Don’t Always Have Great Memories

The human mind is a wondrous and mysterious thing. As such, having a sharp recall of exact employee behaviors isn’t always possible. One of the biggest challenges that managers face when they sit down to perform employee reviews is trying to recall specific events in enough detail to draw conclusions. This, of course, can make it difficult for them to provide concrete examples of great or poor performance. This, in turn, makes it hard for them to support their statements when writing reviews. To make things worse, memory itself is unstable, prone to being altered, and can be shaped by personal or time biases.

Managers Aren’t Always Writers

If a manager is struggling with an employee’s appraisal, it may be the “writing” part of the equation that is the problem. Most managers aren’t trained in professional writing and like any skill, becoming an effective writer takes practice. Even if they are literary superstars, they still may not know how to effectively articulate examples, coaching tips, or areas in need of improvement in a useful way. Writing is hard for anyone and unless it is approached as a process, the result can be poorly worded, vague, and unhelpful comments, causing more damage than good.

Managers Don’t Always Understand Their Employee’s Jobs

Creating solid and helpful comments in an employee appraisal also requires that a manager understands the in-depth nuances of an employee’s performance and task list. For managers who deal with a lot of employees, this can be difficult as they may not know the intricacies of the employee’s position or the work that they do. This can lead to giving vague or even incorrect suggestions and comments.

A Big Part of the Picture Might Be Missing

For managers who work side-by-side with employees every day, they have enough direct experience and observations to offer useful and helpful comments and suggestions. But for managers who do not interface frequently with their direct reports, a big part of the picture could be missing. If employees work with clients, other employees and/or other managers in the company, they might have a wealth of input and knowledge which would assist in writing good comments in the employee’s appraisal. If this input is missing, managers could be staring long and hard at a blank page and feel less confident about the accuracy of their records.

Using Performance Management Tools to Help

Performance management tools like emPerform can provide a lot of valuable information and tools to help managers plan and write effective comments in performance appraisals. When looking for a performance management system that will help managers provide the best possible comments, look for systems that offer the ability to help with context, recall, wording, and angles.

Tools That Provide Context & Content

Instead of a manager sitting down to ‘remember’ and ‘guess’ what and how an employee did, online performance management systems that offer ongoing goal tracking, competency management, development planning, and journaling/feedback tools, provide the necessary context and information for managers to use as a basis for comments. Using this information, managers can more easily and accurately assess how an employee is doing, what milestones they have achieved, what observations were recorded, and whether they need to improve in certain areas. A manager will be able to reference this information in a consolidated and easily digestible format so they can provide a detailed report. Bonus! If managers are using journaling and feedback tools regularly to document coaching tips and observations, this significantly reduces the amount of writing even needed!

Tools to Help with Recalling & Remembering

One of the handiest features that performance management tools is the ability for managers to journal an employee’s performance throughout the year. By making it easy to write down performance-related information right when it is fresh, these tools allow managers to build up a backlog of content, a performance log if you will. This makes it so managers don’t need to struggle to remember specific events when it is time to write reviews and can actually reference instances or observations when justifying comments.

Tools that Offer Writing Assistance

A good performance management tool can make it easier for non-writers to find the right words to describe an employee’s performance. One way they do this is by providing a database of past reviews on an employee, giving a manager plenty of referenceable material. Another way that a performance management tool accomplishes this is with writing prompts, which can help coax a manager out of writer’s block and offer company-approved wording for addressing performance at any level.

Tools That Incorporate Many Angles Using 360° Input

A good performance management tool should be able to incorporate comments from multiple sources who work closely with an employee. Integrated 360° peer feedback functionality helps managers collect and analyze input from multiple angles in order to ensure they are providing the most accurate comments and feedback related to an employee’s skills, performance, development opportunities and day-to-day interactions with others.


We wholeheartedly believe that even Shakespeare would have a hard time writing good comments in an employee’s appraisal. Writing can be tough but if tools are available to provide context, recall, content, assistance, and multiple angles, then managers can feel confident that they are providing fair, accurate, and most importantly, helpful comments for employees.

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