Stop Using An Email Signature

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Internet denizens, we came so close to getting rid of clunky sign-offs to our written communication. Email was supposed to be deliberately informal and was not going to mimic our culturally-ingrained letter-sending formalities.

When e-mail first entered the office in the 1990s, most users wanted to abandon the formalities of letter writing altogether, so they omitted signoffs. […] [A] Los Angeles Times article from that era […] predicted that the rise of electronic communication would ultimately kill off the written goodbye altogether.

Oh, to return to those halcyon days. Now we feel like we need to close our email as if we’ve just penned a missive on delicate parchment and sent it off by post. All our options for doing that are universally terrible though.

“Yours” sounds too Hallmark. “Warmest regards” is too effusive. “Thanks” is fine, but it’s often used when there’s no gratitude necessary. “Sincerely” is just fake—how sincere do you really feel about sending along those attached files?

In order to solve this problem, we seem to have  settled on the most boring closing imaginable “Best.” “Best” is bland. “Best” is inoffensive. “Best” is the most anodyne way one could possibly end something, because it means nothing. Are you really wishing your colleagues all the very best in the world when you send them a note about how the copier is broken again? Did you intend to tell WIRED magazine that you wish them the best when you sent an email to cancel your subscription? No you did not.

Free yourself from the shackles of thinking your email is just a speedy letter writing tool and drop your completely unnecessary email sign-off. Well, unless you are emailing your 85-year-old great aunt who just learned how to use email, in which case you should employ the nicest sign-off you can think of, because otherwise she will just think you are being rude.

Featured image: “A girl sent email to A man on smartphone” from Shutterstock.

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  • I’m in favor of efficient communication–and cutting extra words in e-mails is efficient—but you don’t appreciate the importance of a well-crafted e-mail closing.

    When I send my first e-mail to an opposing attorney on a new acquisition or send an initial non-disclosure agreement to another company, the e-mail is formal and ends with a respectful “Best regards.” For these initial business-to-business communications, I want to project formality, seriousness, and respect to the person I might have to negotiate with for several months. I do the same thing when I send an e-mail to the CEO. But when I send an e-mail to my colleagues, I close with a “Thanks” or just “Matt.” Both closings impart the intended informality.

    I agree with you that we should ditch the “Sincerely” (too formal) and “Very truly yours”‘/””Warmest regards” (too touchy-feely). Both present as contrived and insincere regardless of the recipient.

    Using the right closing, like understanding and writing for your audience generally, is important because reflects not only on you but also tells the recipient how you view him or her—especially when it is your first communication and will make a first impression on the person.

    E-mail closings, though, aren’t the worst aspect of e-mail practice—especially among lawyers. That award goes to the first and last sentences of e-mails that contain attached documents.

    Bad: “Enclosed please find herein for your review [the document].”
    Best: “Attached is/are”

    Bad: “If you should have any questions after reviewing the attached document, please feel free to contact me at your convenience by replying to this e-mail or by calling me at the phone number below.”
    Best: “If you have questions, please [give me a] call.”

    Finally, people should stop sending the useless, annoying reply of “Thanks” after receiving a response e-mail. The aggregate amount of time American workers spend each year deleting these “Thanks” e-mails is incalculable. If a person wants to make explicit her gratitude for the recipient’s expected behavior, a simple “Thanks in advance for your help” is sufficient.

    • I’d disagree that email remains an “informal” way of communicating. That might be the intent originally, but companies and individuals have evolved. Email now is a primary form of communication, and deserves a similar decorum of respect.

      That said, I follow Matt’s example. I include a more “formal” signature with my name, title, and contact information in the first message. After that, it’s a simple “Thanks” or “Jeff.”

      I assume, like a telephone call, that the receiver has all of my information for further contact, and that I don’t need to continuously ask, “with warmest regards,” that he or she take my information a second time.

      • J. C.

        I agree. It is formal and almost identical to an actual letter these days. I actually dislike when my clients email as though it is an instant messenger with one or two words and no salutation. The lacking close is fine most time.

        • An e-mail that reads like a text message from a person you don’t know is jarring and a bit insulting—at least to me. The same e-mail that reads like a text message and contains text-message shortcuts such as “u” for “you” is an abomination.

  • Jason Currie

    I’ve gone the other direction with “Yours &c,”. It’s archaic and a nice conversation starter.

    • It’s also a bit sarcastic/irreverent–feeling, which is cool.