Every professional needs to learn how to write professional emails — and not just for the sake of furthering one’s career. It can be tough, especially when you have to deal with rude, angry, or even trollish people, but isn’t it an honorable thing to take pride in the emails you send out?
We’ve written a lot about how to email like a pro, but one aspect that’s regularly overlooked is the email signature. A lot of people don’t have one, and those who do have one are squandering their potential. Plus, if you’re the kind of person who has email anxiety, a signature could mean one less thing to worry about per email.
Thinking about setting a signature for yourself? Here’s what you need to know to get the most out of it.
1. Use the Right Delimiter
A delimiter is a character sequence that’s used to mark where one thing ends and another begins. In layman’s terms, it’s what you type to say “my email ends here, my signature starts here”. Most modern email clients will separate the signature from the email body if a signature is detected.
For that, you need to use a delimiter that the email client recognizes. Fortunately, there’s an accepted standard that most modern email clients use: two regular dashes followed by a whitespace character (–– ). This delimiter should be on its own line preceding the signature.
2. Keep It Simple
As with most writing-related things, less is more when it comes to email signatures. Only the most essential elements should be included, which means throwing out everything else that may or may not be useful. The more clutter you have, the less likely your recipient will actually read it.
So what should you definitely include?
- Phone number
- Email address
Depending on your field and position, you may also want to include a mailing address, but that may end up being too much. If you still use fax machines, go ahead and add a fax number. Any other detail beyond this is non-critical. You can add more, but only if you can justify it.
The big question is, what about social media profiles? If you feel like you absolutely must include them, try to keep it to one or two. The three best candidates are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Pick the two you use the most. Any more than that and you risk clutter.
3. Keep It Short
If you heed the advice to keep it simple, then it shouldn’t be difficult to keep it short — but even so, it can be easy to let your guard down and end up with a big signature, even if it doesn’t say much. Condense everything as much as you can.
The rule of thumb is that it’s better to stretch horizontally than vertically. Try to keep everything on four lines or less. If you exceed that, your signature may appear too bulky, and that means recipients will be less likely to bother reading it.
Title at Company
firstname.lastname@example.org | Tel: (###) ###-#### | Fax: (###) ###-####
So don’t be afraid to combine multiple elements on the same line. The standard is to separate multiple items using a pipe character (|), but you can use something similar if you like, such as the middot character (·) or the emdash character (—).
4. Keep It Subtle
Here’s where things can get tricky. Of the people who do use email signatures, too many of them try way too hard to make sure their signatures stick out like sore thumbs. After all, you want the recipient to take notice and check out your profiles, right?
The problem is that your email signature shouldn’t be the thing that distinguishes you from everyone else. Rather, the email body is where you convince the recipient that you’re worth their time. If your email body has done its job, the recipient will seek out your signature, no matter how bland or forgettable it is.
Your signature should only be there for one reason: to let them know how to reach you. Keep it subtle. No flashy colors, no intense formatting, and definitely keep the graphics to a minimum. A loud signature could even turn away a recipient who was convinced by the email body.
5. Use Multiple Signatures
If your email client allows for multiple signatures, consider taking advantage of that. For example, you could set up a seasonal signature with a “Merry Christmas!” message during the holiday months. Or maybe you can set up different signatures for composed emails vs. replies.
After all, if you’re replying to someone’s email, they probably already know who you are, so a lot of the usual information in an email signature becomes unnecessary. A signature for replies could be cut down and only inserted for flavor purposes (to make your email feel professional).
Just make sure you don’t go overboard with this!
6. Be Wary of HTML & vCards
Emails can be sent in one of two ways: plain text and HTML. Plain text is great because every email client can handle it, but you lose out on text formatting, hyperlinking, etc. HTML is nice because of what it can do, but some email clients may not display your messages as intended.
And then there are vCards, which are basically electronic business cards. They’re useful in theory, but not so great in practice because few people actually care about them. In fact, most people don’t even know what they are. Plus, your signature should have all your relevant details, which makes vCards a bit redundant.
I’m not saying you can’t use HTML or vCards, but there are potential downsides to think about. It comes down to the kinds of people you’re emailing and whether or not you’re okay with the occasional annoyed recipient. I personally think people should stick with regular business cards.
7. Test With Multiple Email Clients
Once your email signature is all set and ready to go, there’s one last thing you need to do: send an email to yourself and make sure you check what your signature looks like using as many different email clients as possible. At the very least, you should check with Outlook, Gmail, and a few mobile apps.
The last thing you want is an email signature that looks great in your own email client but looks completely botched in something like Gmail, which doesn’t always play nicely with things like HTML. Always double check just to be sure it looks as expected.
Do You Use Email Signatures?
The thing about email is that it’s not going anywhere any time soon, so if you haven’t already, you should really look into these tips for improving your email efficiency. Signatures aren’t the only way to make your life easier. For example, canned responses can save you a lot of time.
Just remember to take the proper email security precautions so you don’t end up with a malware-ridden computer or accidentally give away your life savings to one of those infamous Nigerian princes.
What do you think of email signatures? Do you use them for your accounts? What are your biggest pet peeves when you see someone else’s email signature? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!