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Saying goodbye is so hard to do, isn’t it? It’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s awkward. Well, there may not be any instructions for those situations, but at least we can offer some instructions for how you can say goodbye in an email without feeling awkward.

An email signature You Too Can Benefit From The Power Of Email Signatures You Too Can Benefit From The Power Of Email Signatures A signature tells you something about a personality. Just as two people hardly write alike, they also sign differently. That's how the "science" of Graphology came into being. But the digital age and the email... Read More is for all intents and purposes, your “goodbye”. It’s not whether you hug someone or give them a handshake. It’s not whether you only give them your name, or hand them your business card with all of your contact info included. It’s how you make an impression. Or not.

In this article, I’m going to share the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the couple of decades that I’ve been communicating with people on the Internet. Interestingly enough, the dilemmas involved with email signatures have existed ever since those early email messages were being sent over BitNet and FidoNet or even MIT’s CTSS mail system in the 1960’s, but I digress.

Email has been with us for a very long time. So how do you get it right? How do you sign off without looking like a snob, but also offering enough information so people know who and what you are? Let’s get started. By the time we’re through, you’ll have a pretty good idea what you want to do with your own email signature.

What an Email Signature is Supposed to Do

These days, in the process of emailing people, I have 3 different “levels” of email signature.  Why? Well, there are three levels of relationships to cover — everything from a brief note to a friend, all the way to a formal business email message to a company. Three variations is really all you need, and the purpose of these should be the following:

1. A Quick Smile — This signature version goes on quick emails to friends or colleagues who you email constantly, several times a day.

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2. Smile and a Handshake — This signature version goes on longer emails to work colleagues, where your email needs to be just a little more formal.

3. A Firm Handshake and Business Card — This is for those times when you need to write a formal business-related email and provide your title and all your contact info.

handshake

There are unwritten rules to each of these types of email signatures. Break them, and it won’t be the end of the world. If you want to make an especially good impression though, then you’ll want to take heed of some of these tips for each type of email you send.

The Quick Smile Signature

You don’t always need an email signature. At least, you don’t always need a formal one. This is just like when you’re walking by a colleague in the hallway. You see them several times a day. You attend the same meetings. Do you really need to greet them in the hallway with a handshake? No; most of the time it’s a quick “Hey Fred” and a smile, if anything at all. When you’re quickly emailing a colleague to ask for advice or for a tip, you may not even need a signature at all. If you do feel the need to sign off, you can take my approach, just your name prefaced with a dash. simple-email No need for flowery quotes or elaborate titles. The person knows who you are, what you are, and anything beyond your name would be awkward. Consider it like a basic conversation by the water-cooler, which you usually just end with something like “alright, catch you later then!” and a quick wave. Nothing more is needed.

Smile and a Handshake

The other type of signature is sort of a hybrid between formal and informal. This is the tough one to get right. These may be colleagues you want to email with semi-formal business requests, but you don’t want them to think you’re coming across as a stiff. They need to appreciate the importance of the email, but you don’t want them to wonder if you’re actually still friends. This is where the very subtle signature comes into play. These are usually decreased in size and almost unnoticeable in the footer of the email itself.  One of the best approaches for this is a signature I call the “one-liner”.

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In this version, all of the information is divided up with an “|” character. This could be as simple as an address or email, phone numbers, cell numbers or whatever. It should be brief, include just a little bit of necessary information, and that’s it. I’ve even seen some people make this signature in a font that is more faint than the rest of the email – maybe in grey. Another approach I’ve noted is a very brief two-liner. Basically, a name and one form of contact that could be a single phone number or an email address.
email-signatures3 Obviously, this is for recipients who already know who you are, what company you work with, and you’re just sending them one of many correspondence emails. It provides the “feel” of a friendly email, but if the person needs to contact you and may not keep your number in their Rolodex (do people still use those…?), then there’s your contact info at the foot of the email, right within reach.

A Formal Handshake

Of course, there are those times when you’re emailing someone outside of the company, or maybe you’re emailing someone inside of the company about something official that requires the conversation to be formal. It’s like wearing a formal outfit when attending an award ceremony for your colleagues. Before I cover what you should do in these cases, it’s more educational to cover what not to do first. Yes, you should provide contact information, like your company name, website, and email address, but you don’t need to overdo it. Is there really a need to provide four different phone numbers, including a fax machine?
email-signatures1
Nope, provide enough contact info so that there are several methods to contact you — email, phone, or maybe even via a website — but don’t get carried away. Providing a list of phone numbers makes it look like you’re so mobile that you’re never at your office and too difficult to contact.

Another common mistake is coming across as a self-promoter. People like this will overload their email signatures with their social networking accounts to the point where the signature is over 10 lines long and filled with mostly self-marketing.

email-signatures2
Another way to give a horrible impression is to use all sorts of funky colors and fonts in your email address. It’s hard to pull something like that off, because the colors need to match, and the fonts need to look right. Unfortunately, many people have no clue how to properly match colors, and their email signature ends up looking like something out of a Willy Wonka factory.
email-signatures4
This sort of clown-signature is unprofessional and anyone you send it to will think  you have no idea what you’re doing, no matter what field you’re in. So avoid extravagant colors. Keep it simple.

What You Can Do Right

So what does a good formal email signature look like if you want to make a good impression? Go with the basic information required, keep the formatting and style simple, and don’g overdo it with information.

Here’s one example. This one includes 4 lines — name, company, phone number, and email address. That’s it.

email-signatures5

This person used plain text only, and keeping it to only to four lines makes it come across as classy and professional.

With my own address, I go a little further in keeping the signature modest by using italics and fading it to dark grey. Keeping it a shade lighter than the email text itself tells the recipient that you consider your own information secondary to the message itself. It’s a subtle hint of humility.

my-pic1

Also, titles should only be used when they are relevant to the conversation at hand. In most correspondence related to my own website, people need to know that I’m the owner of the site, so the title is important. Only enough information is included for quick contact – email and phone number, that’s it.

Another example is the signature I use for both internal and external correspondence from MakeUseOf.

email-signatures8

Here, I actually waffled between using the title or not. It is usually only important in external email communications and marginally important in some internal communications. I started out using two versions — one for external and one for internal — but got tired of manually switching between the two, that I decided to stick with the one above. At the risk of coming across as self-important, it remains faded and secondary. It also makes use of the “|” character mentioned above, a small splash of color to make the website name stand out, and I decided to be bold and add a fifth line for a quote.

Coming up with the perfect email signature 6 Tips To Get More Out Of Signatures in Gmail 6 Tips To Get More Out Of Signatures in Gmail Read More that represents who you are, what you do and how to contact you can take some trial and error, but once you get it right, it feels good knowing that you’re putting your best foot forward in every email correspondence that you send out.

What are your tips for a better email signature 5 Ways To Create Custom Multiple Signatures In GMail 5 Ways To Create Custom Multiple Signatures In GMail Read More ? What things do you like or dislike about other signatures you’ve seen? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Image Credit: Business Couple via Shutterstock

  1. Daniel Escasa
    December 13, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    Yes, I did hear of that legal requirement (?). Doesn't keep me from detesting it :)

  2. Daniel Escasa
    December 13, 2013 at 7:04 am

    IMHO, those disclaimers about privileged information and “if you're not the intended recipient” yada-yada are pompous and ignorant. The latter, because you're not supposed to use email for privileged information, the former because of the latter :)

    My apologies if I offend anyone, but my hatred for that disclaimer grows every time I see it

    • Umberto
      December 13, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Daniel, I think that it is a legal bit that has to be used by companies. If you misspell an email address, the company could be liable for its content.

  3. Robin
    December 13, 2013 at 2:27 am

    I'm with Robert. I stopped including my email address in my signature a while ago. People can reply or reference it in the header of forwarded messages.

    What about the inclusion of images in email signatures? Personally, I find them annoying. They are unnecessary attachments, especially when multiple instances pile up in email threads. Also, few images actually look good or professional in my experience.

  4. Robert
    December 12, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    Why put your email on an email? Are people not smart enough to hit "Reply"?

    • Ryan Dube
      December 12, 2013 at 10:10 pm

      Ha - that's actually an excellent point! Then again, I've used the approach before when sending an official business email from one of my non-business accounts, and prefer people using the business email account most of the time. That's the only reason I've done it anyway - I can't make excuses for other people though. :-)

    • Michael
      December 12, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      Hi Robert,

      Sometimes folk will want to reply to you after a message has been forwarded to them. If you are not the author or an addressee in the forwarded message, your email address is usually not preserved.

      - Michael

  5. James M
    December 12, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    For my personal e-mail signature, it's pretty simple -- three lines, one each for my name, e-mail address, and web site. A bit more than your "quick smile" level, but still relatively informal. For work, it's much more formal -- I use four lines, basically split in half so that the left side has my name and postal mailing address, while the right side has my title, office location, e-mail address, and phone and fax. But with the way work e-mail threads go, I will sometimes have to include something below what I wanted to write. In cases like that, I'll usually put a little "-- name" as a quick signature, so people realize I'm done, then leave whatever else I need and my formal signature at the bottom.

  6. Bogdan Popa
    December 12, 2013 at 7:16 pm

    I use about.me for my signature and that's great because I have all my connections there!

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