360 degree feedback questionnaires normally include scored questions which pinpoint specific behaviours and then more general questions intended to capture more generic comments or to give raters the opportunity to add something to their feedback that the scored questions alone did not allow.
The important point to remember is that free text questions fulfill a different purpose to the scored questions. Whereas the scored questions are intended to capture numerical scores against a very specific behaviour or attitude, the free format questions are open ended opportunities to give qualitative feedback in a way that is not constrained by the focused nature of the scored questions.
Our experience has been that generic questions like “What does this person do well that you would like to see more of?” work far better than specific questions like “Comment on this person’s communication style.” The more specific questions frequently get left unanswered or the rater feels the need to shoehorn some kind of response into the question whereas more open questions give an opportunity to say something that hasn’t already been said or provide a context to a theme that has come out elsewhere in the review.
Looking to the free text answers is a good way of triangulating the responses that have come out elsewhere in the 360 review. For example, an appraisee may have been given high scores throughout the scored section of the questionnaire, yet the free text comments do not reflect that – clearly an invitation for closer investigation. Or the free text may highlight a theme which is reflected elsewhere in the scoring but not necessarily relating to any particular question.
So remember: scored questions and free text are there for different reasons and both provide a rich input to the outcome of the 360 review.