One writing task that many employees report feeling unprepared to do is writing assessments and appraisals. Some workplaces require them, but not all workplaces train employees how to write them! By learning a few strategies and getting a clear understanding of the purpose of each, you will be able to confidently write within these genres.

Performance Appraisal Systems

Employees generally want their managers to tell them three things: what they should be doing, how well they’re doing it, and how they can improve their performance. Good managers address these issues on an ongoing basis. On a semiannual or annual basis, they also conduct formal performance appraisals to discuss and evaluate employees’ work performance. Often, performance appraisals are paired with individual self-assessments. This chapter will introduce you to strategies for completing both.

Appraisal systems vary both by organization and by the level of the employee being evaluated, but they generally follow a three-step process:

Three-Part Process for Performance Appraisal Systems

  1. Before managers can measure performance, they must set goals and performance expectations and specify the criteria (such as quality of work, quantity of work, dependability, initiative) that they’ll use to measure performance. They will often require the employee to complete a self-assessment as part of this step–these assessments help the employee to more closely evaluate their own behaviors, and offer the employer another data point from which to assess the employee.
  2. At the end of a specified time period, managers complete written evaluations that rate employee performance according to the predetermined criteria.
  3. Managers then meet with each employee to discuss the evaluation. Jointly, they suggest ways in which the employee can improve performance, which might include further training and development.

It sounds fairly simple, but why do so many managers report that, except for firing people, giving performance appraisals is their least favorite task?[1] To get some perspective on this question, we’ll look at performance appraisals from both sides, explaining the benefits and identifying potential problems with some of the most common practices.

Benefits and Disadvantages of Performance Appraisal Systems

Among other benefits, formal appraisals provide the following:

  • An opportunity for managers and employees to discuss an employee’s performance and to set future goals and performance expectations
  • A chance to identify and discuss appropriate training and career-development opportunities for an employee
  • Formal documentation of the evaluation that can be used for salary, promotion, demotion, or dismissal purposes[2]

As for disadvantages, most stem from the fact that appraisals are often used to determine salaries for the upcoming year. Consequently, meetings to discuss performance tend to take on an entirely different dimension: the manager may appear judgmental (rather than supportive), and the employee may get defensive. This adversarial atmosphere can make many managers not only uncomfortable with the task but also less likely to give honest feedback. (They may give higher marks in order to avoid delving into critical evaluations.) HR professionals disagree about whether performance appraisals should be linked to pay increases. Some experts argue that the connection eliminates the manager’s opportunity to use the appraisal to improve an employee’s performance. Others maintain that it increases employee satisfaction with the process and distributes raises on the basis of effort and results. [3]

Here’s a quick video (4:19) that briefly touches on performance appraisals and offers some helpful tips when creating one.

Writing Self-Assessments

As noted earlier, many performance appraisal systems include self-assessments. Typically, a self-assessment is a written summary of your accomplishments and opportunities for improvement. It is usually written in response to specific job duties and/or performance goals and may include a numerical rating system. Ultimately, your accomplishments will clearly align with your job duties and performance goals AND you will demonstrate clearly how you have contributed to the company or organization during the period of assessment.

Why should you assess yourself?

Some employees are surprised when asked to write a self-assessment. They may have assumed that performance appraisals were solely the job of management. However, there is much to be gained from writing a self-assessment. The benefits include:

  • You can remind/notify your manager of accomplishments they may have forgotten or were unaware of.
  • You can offer detailed examples of your work to clearly show that you have contributed to the company and met your duties/goals.
  • You can address shortcomings in a positive manner. This allows you to bring them up first, which is usually more comfortable than being presented with your shortcomings by another. You can also downplay them and keep your focus mostly on your accomplishments, which may help your manager to do the same. Finally addressing your shortcomings yourself shows your ability to honestly self-assess. If you focus only on your strengths and mention no shortcomings or opportunities to improve, you suggest that you do not have the ability to see how your work/behaviors impact the organization.

Use the STAR Method for your Self-Assessment

You’ll use the STAR method for writing your self-assessment in this class:


SITUATION: Describe the conditions under which you fulfilled this duty/goal.

TASK: Describe what general task you did during the year to create the results you achieved.

ACTION/ACTIVITY: Include specific actions/additional activities you completed that contributed to your results.

RESULT: Describe what you accomplished during this assessment/rating period to meet the stated duty/goal.

Example of STAR method for excellent work:   When I started as a sales rep, we were understaffed by two agents and customer service surveys/feedback indicated our team was not performing well. I updated our phone system to ensure callers were aware of current wait times, and implemented a “call-back” system so customers would not have to wait on hold. Additionally, I worked with John to determine the top customer questions/needs, and we developed an online FAQ to help answer these common questions. As a result, we receive more positive customer comments and have reduced the large volume of phone calls and emails requesting simple, factual answers (that are now available online).

Example of STAR method for work/behavior that can be improved:   My challenge this semester was to tackle my first online class along with a several challenging courses in my major and a part-time job. To best prepare for completing work in the online class, I spent extra time during the first few weeks studying the class calendar, reading the weekly task lists and plugging in due dates to my personal calendar. I also emailed the instructor when I was not completely certain about what was due. Although I missed submitting some of the smaller assignments, I did submit all major projects on time. In the remaining weeks, I aim to set aside additional time for my online class to ensure I complete all portions of assigned work and do not miss any due dates.

Additional Suggestions for a Self‐Assessment:[4]

  • If you have difficulty identifying your accomplishments or special strengths for a selfassessment, think about what makes you proud in your work. Often these things–calming anxious visitors, solving systems problems, mentoring new employees, coaching or counseling others, writing reports–will help you identify your accomplishments.
  • Use specific examples. Specific examples add credibility. Although words like outstanding, dependable, and creative are positive, they do not always paint a convincing picture. Instead of stating that you “always maintain good customer relations,” cite customersatisfaction surveys, letters of communication, and the absence of any customer complaints about you. Facts speak louder than adjectives.
  • Use numbers or metrics whenever possible. Numbers are concrete. They communicate a clear picture. By contrast, a “large staff” may be 20 or 200. If you are in charge of a large staff, budget, or region, use numbers to show how large it is. Alternatively, state specifically how long you have managed it.
  • Do not exaggerate or lie, even a tiny bit. Your selfassessment should make you feel proud and help you speak confidently in a performance discussion. Exaggerations or misstatements will not give you confidence, in addition to their obvious ethical implications.
  • Use the word “I.” Many people have been taught in business or technical writing classes not to use the pronoun “I.” In some instances that may be useful advice, like when writing your resume, but in a selfassessment it does not make sense. Feel free to write, “I hired 200 interns” or “I wrote the final draft.” If you participated in a successful group effort, you are still justified in using “I”: “With my team members, I won the Corporate Communications award in 2004.” Vary your sentence structure if you find that you have too many sentences beginning with “I.” Change “I reduced turnaround time by 20 percent within a year” to “Within a year; I reduced turnaround time by 20 percent.”
  • Give relevant information. Most selfassessments include specific categories: mission support, program management, teamwork, communication, customer service, problem solving, and so on. Be sure that the examples you give match the category; otherwise, they lose power. Be factual, specific and concise. The selfassessment does not need to be very long. Summarize and highlight your important contributions. (As a guideline write a maximum of two pages per performance element.)
  • Explain value. Be sure to tie results to organizational goals. For example, as the new ethics coordinator at your organization, you may have conducted 40 ethics briefings in your first three months. The number sounds impressive, but what does it mean? Is there a correlation between your briefings and a reduction in violations or incidents? Whenever possible, translate your hard work into results your reader will value. Consider “negative data” to illustrate your effectivenessinformation such as the absence of onthejob violations, lawsuits, and grievances.

Alignment: A Strategy for Self-Assessments & Performance Appraisals

Whether writing a self-assessment or a performance appraisal for a subordinate (an employee you oversee or manage), you’ll find that either is based on one mental equation: consider your (or the employee’s) job duties or goals and then write about what you (or your employee) has done to fulfill them.

Job Duty or Performance Goal  → → →  Fulfillment of Job Duty or Performance Goal

To do this mental work, you must start with a job description, a list of job duties, and/or a list of performance goals. All companies should provide a job description to employees, but some will not be accurate. And in some cases, there may be no official job description. If you find yourself with no job description, write one and work with a manager to have it approved. And if you are starting your own business, write one for yourself so you can better develop–and articulate to others–your job (daily/monthly/yearly duties) and your goals.

Any feedback you give for another person should be directly related to a job duty or performance goal. If it is not, it is likely not relevant to the performance appraisal.

Writing Performance Appraisals

  • Use specific examples, facts, and accomplishments (based on your records and observations) to present a complete summary of an employee’s work. Just as you learned to do when writing bullet statements on a resume, you’ll provide quantitative, measurable information to demonstrate progress.
    • Demonstrate your knowledge of and pride in your employees’ contributions.  Show employees that what they do does matter.
      • Instead of, “Jenny is committed to meeting standards,” write “Jenny’s new documentation procedure helped us meet our team goal of improving on-time submittals by 15%.
    • Specific wording keeps employees focused on objectives, proves ratings, and gives employees something concrete to improve or maintain performance.
  • Use objective (factual) wording so that you concentrate on observed behaviors. It is not the job of a manager to assess one’s personality or perceived attitude.
    • Avoid using terms such as “always,” “never,” and so forth. Also, do not give an overly favorable, inflated evaluation.
    • Use objective wording to write credible performance appraisals that reinforce desired behaviors.
  • Use positive phrasing to describe accomplishments and constructive language to suggest improvements.
    • Assessments are not just about pointing out gaps or flaws! Offer recognition and encouragement.
    • It should be no surprise that tactful, positive wording encourages employees’ acceptance of your comments and suggestions. Additionally, it motivates them toward achieving more. When assessing the work of others, be thorough and honest. At the same time, be especially careful to consider the effect of negatively or poorly worded comments.
  • It is often required that managers provide examples as evidence for a very high rating or for a very low rating.
    • With the exception of very low or low ratings, comment on only a few development areas—those that are critical to your team’s success and those that you have discussed previously with the employee.  (Do not bombard the employee with a laundry list of goals in all areas.) Translate a few development areas that are critical to your team’s success into improvement suggestions.  Build in a sense of continuity, linking what employees are already doing right to future successes.
    • Instead of writing, “Shenikwa needs more training,” write ” Shenikwa applies her Drupal training to assist the team with web page development.  The next step is an advanced training course so that she can take the lead on web development.”
  • Use language that reinforces desired behavior motivates employees and clearly speaks to contributions that align with stated goals/objectives/duties/targets.
    • Remind your employees and your next-level manager of the value and significance of your employees’ actions.
    • Write, “Ann’s sharing her strong collections expertise with team members has increased their understanding of collections issues, enabling them to better meet team goals.”
  • Make sure your work is written for ease of reading and proofread well. Remember that bulleted lists are easier to read than dense paragraphs.
    • Attention to detail and ease of reading shows respect for your readers, and speaks to your competence, as well. If you do not come across as a competent manager, your employees may not take your feedback seriously.

Content about Performance Appraisal Systems is from Fundamentals of Business: Canadian Edition by Pamplin College of Business and Virgina Tech Libraries is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Content about Self-Assessments is from “Tracking Performance Accomplishments and Writing Self‐Assessments.” USDA. Office of Human Capital Management, Departmental Human Resources Division. Accessed from; this resource is a government document available in the public domain.

Content about Writing Performance Appraisals is summarized and paraphrased from Ten Tips for Writing Effective Performance Appraisals. (2013, The Writing Center, Inc.)

Examples of the STAR method are created by Baye Herald for Technical Communication Across the Professions and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

  1. Heathfield, S. (2018). “Performance Appraisals Don’t Work: The Traditional Performance Appraisal Process.” About Money. Retrieved from:
  2. [45] Nelson B., & Economy, P. (2003). Managing for Dummies, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley. p. 140.
  3. Archer North & Associates (2010). Reward Issues. Retrieved from:
  4. Content from “Tracking Performance Accomplishments and Writing Self‐Assessments.” USDA. Office of Human Capital Management, Departmental Human Resources Division. Accessed from; this resource is a government document available in the public domain.


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