What makes good and bad email signatures

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Email etiquette 101 declares that anyone composing a message should be careful about how their words can be misinterpreted by a reader. When looking at a computer screen, the reader doesn’t know what you intended and can’t hear the tone of your (imaginary) voice. In person you might jokingly say to a colleague, “You’re dumb!” but via email “you’re dumb” doesn’t automatically read as playful. It can be downright rude.

Welcome to the world of digital communications, where what you write and what is read can be worlds apart. For example, typing in all capital letters is considered rude, as though you’re screaming at the reader, even if you were just expressing excitement. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” can feel a lot more accusatory than a calmer, “What are you doing?”

Of course, you know this. Or at least you should know it, as we and thousands of other people have written about it at length. Common email etiquette hasn’t changed much, but people seem to forget that the email signature at the bottom of the page needs just as much attention as the rest of the message. The content of your message should certainly be the focal point of your email, but the signature might be the last thing the readers sees and ultimately the one thing they remember about your email – or even you.

What a signature should do
According to “The Etiquette Book: A complete guide to modern manners” by Jodi R.R. Smith, signatures serve a simple but essential function.

“Unless you are emailing a friend or coworker, do not assume that the recipient will know exactly who you are or, if sending a business message, be familiar with your organization,” cautions Smith. “You may need to specifically identify yourself toward the beginning of the body of the email and/or include your title and company name as part of your signature.”

Good advice, and something that’s easy to forget in today’s world. The number of emails sent per day varies depending on the source, but they all point to an excess of 200 billion emails. Yes, 200,000,000,000. That’s a lot of forwarded chainmail and links to videos of kittens playing in cardboard boxes. Email is so second nature to many workers that they forget the formalities of introduction that you don’t take for granted when meeting someone for the first time in person.

Smith believes an email signature should have a few key elements:

  • Full name
  • Company name
  • Job title or division
  • Mailing address
  • Telephone number
  • Company website
  • Social media links
  • Email address

The problem that arises is that all of that information can make your signature longer than the message and take up half the screen. You should be the judge of what information is pertinent to your readers and include it.

What a signature shouldn’t do
What you shouldn’t do, however, is go overboard with information. A few signature items can make you seem unprofessional or just downright strange. Elements you should be wary of including are:

  • Pictures (of yourself or anybody or anything, really)
  • A variety of fonts
  • Moving or flashing text
  • Potentially offensive quotes
  • Embedded video or sounds that play automatically
  • A list of formal titles and certifications that read like alphabet soup (unless essential to your job)
  • Legal disclaimers that are irrelevant to the message. (See an excellent post on the topic at Lawyerist.com)

When she heard I was working on this story, one reader forwarded me an email signature that takes up 20 lines of a message. It has no fewer than a dozen links in it, one which goes to the sender’s website, another for a social media account, and the rest are for examples of the sender’s portfolio. If the sender’s website is comprehensive, that single link could take care of the rest of the information that is crammed in the signature.

When you’re composing your next email signature (or frantically editing your current one after reading this), keep the above tips in mind and think about your reader.

Some people even have fun with their signatures. The ubiquitous “Sent from my…” messages that are tacked on to many smartphone emails seem to be the easiest way to get a giggle out of a reader.

George Burke, founder and CEO of ebook-lending site eBookFling, decided to mock his iPhone’s AutoCorrect feature by signing off, “Soryr fro typos. Setn by iPhone.”

Blogger Jessica Gottlieb remembers the funniest email signature she received: “Sent from my iPhone, in real life I know how to spell.”

At public relations group Outside media, Sammi Johnson says she and her colleagues put quotes from fictitious “Saturday Night Live” inspirational writer Jack Handy in their quotes. One employee’s signature is, “Contrary to what most people say the most dangerous animal in the world is not the lion or the tiger or even elephant. It’s a shark riding on an elephant’s back, just trampling and eating everything they see.”

What are your thoughts on email signatures? A bunch of text that you ignore anyway or something that people pay attention to?

112 Comments
    • Way to go Steve nice try to get your ad out there for free…… Mr. resumes… expect a ton of business from this!!!!

      • Steve, as far as I’m concerned your signature is perfect. It’s all I needed to find your website this a.m. JFurhrmann was certainly correct — in the very near future, I will be sending you a copy of my resume for initial review and we’ll take it from there. Everything about your site gave me confidence that I can trust you to produce a personalized quality product. Intuitively, I know you’ll be able to take my semi-monster of a resume and transform it into a piece of art. Looking forward to working with you!

    • Just reviewed STEVE’s website…all I know is his sample resumes suck.
      Inconsistent formatting. Too much white space on page 2. Allowing 1 bullet from a job on page one spill onto page 2. Shaded areas for headings (yeah, make the HR guy waste ink if he prints out an emailed resume..that’ll make you popular!).

      In my previous job, I’d have thrown any of the 3 sample resumes from the website in the trash.
      In my current job, I’m the DVOP at a state job office. I work with veterans daily to help get them employed, including resume writing. Perhaps I’ll borrow a few of the (poor)quality-resumes.com examples to display what not to do. Oh, and we don’t charge (other than taxes that are being paid anyway!).

  1. What a signature shouldn’t do” part is very obvious, ofcource we never put a moving object or so on down there, however maybe its for new comers or fresh users.

    • Trust me, it’s still necessary to go over this. I work with some people – all with advance degrees – who continue to type messages in all caps. I’ve told them it’s rude to do that. They continue to do it, so I refuse to answer them and they still can’t figure out why.

    • My predecessor used a picture of her naked child who was 3 or 4 at the time as a business card for her signature block.

      I’ve also seen signature blocks with several quotes…pick the one that means the most and let the others go or change them out if you REALLY feel like you need one.

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  3. What’s Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I’ve found It absolutely helpful and it has aided me out loads. I hope to contribute & help other users like its aided me. Great job.

  4. I was just browsing the internet learn a lot of how to write a e-mail, be actual when you are writing. Thank you very much for your input.

  5. Agreed. Another common mistake people make is forgetting that everyone isn’t as computer- literate or self-righteous as they are. Comment on the topic and sign off, for goodness sake!

        • Of course if we really lived by the maxim “Keep it positive or keep it to yourself.”, then there would be no need for supervisors to correct employees or give performance reviews, and no need for tests and grades in schools, etc. (these imply “negative feedback” – that someone might need to improve) – everyone would be left to “do things their own way” regardless of the standards. I’m just pointing out that “generalisms” like that can only go so far.

          • Yes, because R. Walker’s, TracyD’s, and jerry’s comments were all on topic, seeing these posts from the reader’s perspective, and all positive. I find it horrifying the lack of basic English skills represented in online content these days, especially from so-called journalists and editors. The use of “a” and “an”, “then” and “than”, “there”, “their”, and “they’re” are all atrocious.

            • The most common spelling error is the use of “loose” when it s/b “lose” when something is lost. I am always tempted to respond with the comment that if it is loose then it should be caught or tightened.

          • Oh yeah? No supervisors, no one creating stress for you 5 days out of the 7, 52 weeks a year, 51 if you’re lucky? Free to do things the way you want? Sounds like the American dream to me. This is my new email signature quote btw

      • Agree with both of you. In a sense, the signature becomes more than just basic identification/contact information. It can provide insight as to the nature of the sender’s personality. The email recepient has the opportunity to discover what the sender thinks is essentially important about them — it can divulge a great deal:-)

        • In our company, a corporation, we all have to have the same exact email with specific font size, name, title company name, etc. In all it’s 9 lines. The font color has to be black for “new” emails and the font color has to be blue for “responses”. What corporate bigwig got paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to think up this rule?

          • I’m not sure about the font sizes, but as for the colors, if you use MS Outlook, you can thank the “bigwigs” at Microsoft. The default text color is black for new messages and blue for replies.

  6. For many of us that rarely use e-mail outside of our circle of friends or family, the information in this article is interesting yet not overly useful. Before you get out the pitchforks, tar and feathers, let me explain what I do. Rather than using a set signature for all of my outgoing e-mails, I only include enough information in my signature to clearly identify myself to the recipient. For those of us on a company network or that heavily use e-mail for work and business, the suggestions in the article are helpful. My suggestion is that the reader adapt the suggestions in the article to meet their needs rather than implementing them as required boilerplate.

    Just my humble opinion…

  7. I know this is probably a silly pet peeve, but I hate it when people include messages like “Think before you print, save a tree” or some other message that is political or social in nature. I find it a little offensive and unnecessary. I work in a professional field and I particularly find it unprofessional in emails from colleagues.

    I also hate quotes in email signatures. Just include the basics, please. All I want to know is who you are and how to find you. If we are friends, you can tell me in person not to print out my emails or how much you love Thoreau.

  8. I’m so glad you wrote this article. I thought it was just me thinking that email signatures where getting to be too much. I have seen quotes that I don’t mind but then some emails have at least three quotes. I actually saw one recently where the person added a picture of themself to their signature along with a quote. I think more thought should go into the actual email rather then the signature.

  9. I try to use the shortest possible signature.

    My work signature is just – Bill, preceded by four spaces.

    And the same for newsgroups.

    My personal signature is the same, followed by “I want to stand in the dark and see an audience feel the way I do.” A quote from the movie “Still Crazy.” Nearly everyone I exchange personal mail with knows I’m involved in community theater. Those who don’t often ask about the quote and I can tell them about it.

    In any case, if I think the person receiving the message needs more information about how to contact me or job titles or whatever, I’ll put it in the message body or edit the sig before sending. Oh, and when I’m mailing my kids I usually (sometimes I forget) change “Bill” to “Dad.”

  10. Caroline,

    Thanks for the “a” and “an”.

    Now if only people would learn the difference between “there”, “their”, and “they’re”! I guess “its” and it’s” would be too much to ask.

  11. Very good information from the author. Regarding comments about quotes, I enjoy them and find them fun. They give me a little personal insight into the person I am corresoponding with, especially if I don’t know them personally. Your quirks are not more relevant than mine.

  12. What are the thoughts on adding a QR or TAG code to your email signature? It make for an easy way toget all your contact information into a contact list or smartphone address book.

  13. Outlook has the option of constructing many different ‘signatures’. It allows customization for a number of e-comms and saves time. I have one that is primary, has my scanned sig, full name, title, phones/fax numbers and is the default sig for my initiatied e-mails; another for returns that has my name and ‘Best Regards’ and my scanned signature and phone number; an informal one for msgs to friends and staff that is just my scanned sig and even a few highly personal sigs for e-mails to my wife. Right-clicking on the signature allows you to change to whatever version is appropriate for the e-mail you are sending.

    • @Dennis

      The problem with scanned signatures is that they’re graphics, i. e, pictures, which take up much more computer space than plain alphanumerics. If your correspondents are on dial-up, the message will take noticeably longer to download on their end.

      • And if your recipients have the email carved onto stone tablets to read, they will be unnecessarily heavy.

        But it would still be better than dialup.

        • Actually I agree with this but not because of dialup. When there are images included our spam filter, etc. blocks them and then you have this message that you have to clear up to make sure someone didn’t include a graphic that is pertinent to what you are actually doing. Name, Phone Number, Extension, Company and I am good to go in a signature.

    • I use that function also, had a great sig while I was in college that ended with a quote “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “…holy s@#$…what a ride!”

      When I started job hunting I used a diff sig without the quote. One resume slipped out with my original sig, received an almost immediate response with a request for interview, ended up working at the company for a contract position for six months.

    • I agree. I have several Outlook signatures, e.g. “Signed without address”, “Signed with address”, “With address-not signed”, etc.

  14. Thanks for providing such great tips.

    I read that someone includes a scanned image of their written signature. I’ve considered this but I’m hesitant because of identify theft concerns. What are your thoughts?

    Thank you!

    • That seems so unnecessary. Unless the email was one heavily formatted in html with a graphical header, a scanned signature would just look out of place. I’ve seen it done in political emails–typically those sent out en masse and with a specific request included. It works in those cases, because there are other graphical elements.

      Also keep in mind that some email programs are set up to automatically block images and the recipient may never see your graphical signature!

  15. I always laugh at some of the signatures that I receive with the alphabet soup credentials at the end. I believe that they should be used in professional settings, but with friends, not so much. I began sending mine with EIEIO at the end, just to see if anyone was paying attention. :)

  16. I don’t understand why e-mail address is a necessary part of an e-mail signature. If you have sent me the e-mail, then I obviously have your e-mail address in the from: field. If we’re trying to shorten signatures, I find that to be the least necessary element!

    • I just set mine up where my name is ‘email clickable’ My email is not posted but you can click my name and respond back. As mentioned above – this is for people who may have recieved a forwarded copy and still require contacting back to myself.

  17. This is too funny, it’s like “reading” the form of the childhood game “telephone” where one person starts out telling the next person something and then by the end of the line, the last person says what they were told and it turns out it wasn’t even what the first words started out as… the topic of this website was “Email Signatures” that later turned into a “Spelling test”

    • @ Maria

      Agreed wholeheartedly! However, I think that the comments in most articles such as this one are the most insightful and informative at the same time. Much better reading than the main article.

  18. Actually, sometimes an email address is necessary! I work online and when I email someone and/or reply from work, it sends from my work email address. Which isn’t any help if they are trying to contact me directly. In those instances I do include my email address as part of my sig.

  19. Personally, I can’t stand people putting bible verses in their work email signatures. I’m all for freedom of religion (and also freedom from religion), but personal views shouldn’t be sent out to every person one would email.

  20. @ Caroline
    English is a very difficult language and few rules are hard and fast. Even the “an” before a vowel rule does not apply all the time. For example; you would not say “An United States citizen…” Long (hard?) vowels require an “A”.
    So there. ha. lol. :)

  21. We create email signatures for every employee. They can choose to have a business photo added. It has the basic info plus company logo. It is also in a jpg so they cannot alter the info. This of course does not stop them from adding quotes or ‘please do not print’ items below it. But this does give them something to use and most don’t use any other format. For businesses, it is something to consider.

  22. I freaking hate those hippie nonsense signatures about “Please consider the environment before printing this email.” F you…I’ll print it if I want to. And to further piss you off, I’m gonna fax that printed email to you. Although hippies probably use efax *sigh*

  23. I didn’t see any comments about PGP blocks in sig files. I have recently included mine in my sig file, but am not entirely sold on it.

    Using quotes in a sig file for a personal email account doesn’t bother me-I do it myself. But they have no place in a professional email sig file IMO.

    Also: the directive to think about the environment before printing out an email irritates me, as mentioned by another commenter. If I want to print out an email, I certainly will.

  24. I don’t think it’s necessary to list your email address in your signature. Can’t they just look at the top of the email they received and see what address it came from, or just hit reply?

    • Actually, sometimes an email address is necessary. I work online and when I email someone and/or reply from work, it sends from my work email address.

      (And logically, or ill-logically, depending on how you look at it, if you just hit “reply” to my work email address it goes to an unmonitored account. It actually states “Please do not reply to this email. We are unable to respond to inquiries sent to this address. This address is not monitored. For immediate…” and then goes on to list company contacts.)

      Since my correspondence comes from my work email address, it isn’t any help if they are trying to contact me directly. In those instances I do include my email address as part of my sig.

  25. Pingback: Good Email Signatures | OnPoint, the MemberPoint Blog

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