What Is Qualitative Feedback?

Daniel Liden

Qualitative feedback is a body of observations and responses to one's work or performance that is based on comparisons and descriptions of characteristics in a non-numerical manner. Such feedback is often useful because it allows those giving the feedback to be more specific about what they do or do not like and what they believe could be improved. Quantitative feedback, on the other hand, is based on numbers and can be used to develop detailed statistical data. Such data is often gathered through surveys asking participants to rate various facets of the subject's performance on a given numerical scale. Many forms of feedback include both qualitative and quantitative aspects.

Qualitative feedback allows specifics for suggesting improvement, which can be quite useful in a classroom.
Qualitative feedback allows specifics for suggesting improvement, which can be quite useful in a classroom.

Many people favor qualitative feedback because it provides more precise explanations for areas that need improvement or those that should not be changed. A professor, for instance, may discover from his students that he assigns too much reading and does not explain certain parts of it well enough in class. It is much easier to respond to this criticism than it is to respond to a "2 out of 5" rating in the "comprehensible" category of a quantitative feedback survey. Receiving such constructive criticism on a yearly basis, if not more often, allows the professor to refine his teaching methods based on the changing needs of his students and to receive useful feedback for any new teaching techniques he may try.

Writers may benefit greatly from qualitative feedback.
Writers may benefit greatly from qualitative feedback.

This type of feedback is not, however, always as useful for individuals in management who need to make decisions about their subordinates. Reading through pages of feedback about a professor may allow an academic administrator to get a good sense of his strengths and weaknesses, but doing so is time consuming and imprecise. Quantitative feedback, on the other hand, can supply the administrator with simple averaged numerical ratings with which to make decisions. A professor who consistently receives low scores in a variety of different categories may be subject to censure, particularly when he also receives qualitative criticism that further explains the problems in his teaching method.

Qualitative feedback may help a teacher to refine his teaching methods.
Qualitative feedback may help a teacher to refine his teaching methods.

Almost any profession can benefit from qualitative feedback. Such feedback may, for instance, draw a writer's attention to persistent flaws in his work. An office worker can use it to identify and correct flaws in the manner in which he does business. Even athletes, whose performance is often precisely quantified, often benefit from qualitative descriptions of the problems with their athletic performances.

Positive feedback can help a person reform they behaviors.
Positive feedback can help a person reform they behaviors.

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