The Essay Method of Performance Appraisal

by Ruth Mayhew ; Updated September 26, 2017

Employers use a variety of performance appraisal methods to support their overall performance management systems. Examples of appraisal methods include graphic ratings scales, 360-degree evaluations, employee self-assessments and forced distribution. Essay performance appraisals provide the best opportunity for managers and employees to freely and openly discuss performance, since the essay approach has no limitations on the format posed by other types of employee evaluation.

Essay performance appraisals are for use in addressing performance factors in the most comprehensive manner possible. Managers who write essays about employee performance assess virtually every aspect of the employee performance. Essays include performance assessments concerning job knowledge and proficiency, developmental activities, interpersonal communication and business ethics and philosophy. This type of performance appraisal is generally suited to mid- to senior-level managers. Essay performance appraisals require a substantial investment of the manager’s time – preparation, construction and discussion are three major points in the essay format performance appraisal.


Managers preparing to write an essay appraisal spend time reviewing employee file materials, past performance appraisals and evaluations, attendance records, commendations, achievements and disciplinary records, if applicable. Preparation for an essay appraisal doesn’t really differ from other types of performance appraisals in terms of the types of documents managers review. However, an essay appraisal requires that managers allocate more time to analyzing records pertaining to past performance and comparing them to notes about current performance.


It’s often not enough to simply review the past year’s performance evaluation for completeness and accuracy. Managers who are writing essay performance appraisals must devote time to identifying changes in employee performance from one evaluation period to the next. After identifying obvious changes, analyzing the underlying causes for changes is an essential step in constructing an essay-formatted performance appraisal. Employee performance can change due to department or organizational changes, which are generally outside the employee’s control. An essay addresses with specificity any ups or downs in performance and the factors to which changes are attributed.

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Since essay performance appraisals are exclusive to individual employees, they do take time to construct. Managers can’t copy and paste information into multiple essay appraisals because each one must address specific, individual performance characteristics for each employee. Essays differ from narrative performance appraisals. Narrative appraisals – which contain some assessments in essay format – have a similar format for each employee. An essay, however, follows no proscribed format and the manager can write the employee’s evaluation as he sees fit. Nevertheless, the construction of an essay appraisal requires clearly outlined thought processes, as well as well-written descriptions about employee performance, goals and progress.

Pros and Cons

The advantages of essay performance appraisals are also its disadvantages in certain regards. An essay performance appraisal provides managers with an opportunity to evaluate their employees without the normal constraints of a highly-structured performance appraisal method. Managers who excel at writing essay performance appraisals are usually seasoned experts who enjoy good working relationships and excellent rapport with their employees. On the other hand, essay appraisals pose a challenge to managers with minimal skill levels in report-writing and delivering well-constructed assessments of employee performance.

About the Author

Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.

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