Don’t waste time with unbusinesslike signatures

This is a rant.

At work I spend a fair portion of my time looking up phone numbers, weeding through E-mail messages and cleaning up E-mail replies. My job in IT requires me to respond to a lot of messages for help and, in turn, request help from others. The majority of my business correspondence is with the users I support, IT folks within my organization and external vendors. To get what I want from busy people requires me to be brief and to the point or else my message may be put off until later (or never read).

Quite a few of my co-workers have one thing in common: they either don’t use or use and abuse E-mail signatures. Automatic E-mail signatures were developed to save having to retype information. But, specifically, what information? In personal correspondence signatures haven’t evolved much past random fortunes and witty quotes but in business the E-mail signature’s effectiveness has been diluted with too much information or has been diminished by not being used at all. Business use of E-mail signatures should be business-like and promote productivity. Below are my “Top 10” pet peeves about unbusiness-like E-mail signatures in business E-mail.

10. Full signature on internal mail

If you and I work for the same company then I don’t need your signature to tell me where you work or tell me your address. I already know all that. When I go to reply to your message, don’t make me have to trim out this extra useless information.
Create an “internal” signature and an “external” signature or maybe create “intra-office”, “inter-office” and “external” signatures. Diane Ross provides some tips in her earlier post Insert text automatically into a message (Part One).
One signature does not fit all.

9. Graphics

“Marketing” may say that including graphics in E-mail signatures promotes brand identity and awareness. However, I cringe when I read something like Microsoft’s tutorial for making signatures with “professional polish or personal pizzazz.” Graphics waste my already limited E-mail quota, especially if I’m in regular communication with the correspondent and they often come across as attachments rather than embedded pictures.
Ditch the graphics so I don’t have to.

8. Multiple signatures in E-mail chains

When replying or forwarding mail most E-mail clients already include “Johnny Dangerously said on October 29th…”. Snip the signature. Not snipping means the reader has to search for the actual message, much like finding a needle in a haystack.
Snip! Snip! Snip!

7. Postal address

A lot of folks may disagree with me but in today’s world of E-mail how often is snail mail really used? If I need to know your mailing address then I can ask for it or visit the Contact Us page on your website.
Leave out information that’s rarely needed.

6. Legalese

This email and any files transmitted with it are confidential, may contain privileged information and are solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. Any unauthorized review, use, distribution, copying or disclosure by any other person is strictly prohibited. If you are not the intended recipient and receive this transmission in error, please notify the sender by reply email and then destroy the message. Opinions, conclusions and other information in this message that do not relate to official business of the sender shall be understood to be neither given nor endorsed by the sender. Any information contained in this email, when addressed to recipients is subject to the terms and conditions in governing email should they exist. For a written transcript of this message reply directly with promotion code “make money the easy way” and please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery. Enclose an additional $9.95 per additional message plus S&H. Cannot guarantee delivery time on rush orders. Extra charges for overnight shipping, special processing and special handling costs will vary based on special handling needs. This message not valid in Nevada, Alaska and provinces of the United States. WARNING: Computer viruses can be transmitted via email. The recipient should check this email and any attachments for the presence of viruses. The sender accepts no liability for any damage caused by any virus transmitted by this email. E-mail transmission cannot be guaranteed to be secure or error-free as information could be intercepted, corrupted, lost, destroyed, arrive late or incomplete, or contain viruses. The sender therefore does not accept liability for any errors or omissions in the contents of this message, which arise as a result of e-mail transmission. Any views or opinions presented in this email are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of anyone else. Recipients are asked not to make defamatory statements and not to infringe or authorize any infringement of copyright or any other legal right by email communications. Any such communication is contrary to sender’s policy and outside the scope of the whims of the individual concerned. The sender will not accept any liability in respect of such communication, and the recipient responsible will be personally liable for any damages or other liability arising.

Did you read all that? More than likely no one else will either.

Those legal disclaimers directing you to print and eat any message not intended for your eyes are just silly. Even sillier is someone who feels he must add it to his own outgoing E-mail messages (to folks internal and external) when the company itself hasn’t mandated the legalese. That could easily be done at the outgoing E-mail server; it doesn’t need to be part of a signature.
If these things are so important then why aren’t they put at the top of E-mail messages instead of being tacked on to the end?

Shouldn’t we agree to these mini contracts prior to engaging in the real E-mail reading?
Don’t practice law in signatures.

5. Branding

Branding includes graphics (see #9), slogans and anything else about the company image but not about the sender. This is just more in the haystack before I get to the real information and more to snip out in my replies. By the time we’re communicating with each other, I’m looking for personal branding such as helpful attitude, clear communication and friendly customer service.
Branding is for broadcasting, not one-to-one communications.

4. Designer signatures

Why do people spend time designing their signatures? Vanity. These two “designer” signatures are actual examples from my own E-mail archives. (Names and information have been changed to protect the guilty.)
Yes, the first one looks really nice but do the little icons really help me identify the telephone numbers and E-mail address? What if I don’t have the correct font? I see that Randy has put his name and title in bold face but don’t I already know who this is by looking at the Sender?

This second signature is not only poorly designed but instantly tells me that Randy is rather proud of his name.

Combine the legalese from #6 and the branding from #5 with designer signatures and the signature will probably be longer than the message body. It’s probably already scrolling off screen.

Stop flirting! I’m already reading your message.

3. Not using “– “

This little line of text (two hyphens followed by a space) just above a signature will tell most E-mail applications that everything below it is just a signature and doesn’t need to be quoted in replies. Read Diane Ross’ earlier post Signature Blocks and Netiquette and get the Good Net-Keeping Seal of Approval.
Reduce my having to snip.

2. Not using signatures at all

For crying out loud, they’re simple to use and can even be automated to append to every E-mail message sent! Signatures can actually contain useful information such as a telephone number… which leads me to #1.

1. No phone number!

At minimum every business E-mail signature should include the sender’s telephone extension or a full telephone number. I hate getting an E-mail that says:

I’m having problems with my computer. Can you call me when you get back to your desk?

nothing but whitespace below…

This one little courtesy would save me a few hours of time each year. I wouldn’t have to check my address book, dig out the company directory or navigate to it online to look up a person’s extension. Give everyone with whom you communicate the ability to act immediately by providing the quickest means to reach you… your phone number.

What do I use for my own business E-mail signatures?



They may not be pretty and they may not be witty but they are effective and won’t waste your time.

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2 comments to Don’t waste time with unbusinesslike signatures

  • Vikram Rajan

    Great points for e-signature etiquette (did you ever think that’s what the world would come to?)… I advise my personal-brand clients to have links to their website in their ‘external’ signatures… it does help with self-promotion 🙂
    As far the legalese in signatures, since my clients include financial planners and insurance brokers (who are mostly to blame for this)… they have to include the print, it being ‘fine print’ is their prerogative. Its just like the scary disclaimers at the end of pharma adverts. Sure they should have an internal sig – but safer with compliance (and easier to appease the compliance officer when) having it all over the place.
    At least they could put it under the — to alert auto-snip.
    And the no-sig, cryptic abbrevs are from the crackberrys. Smaller screens, Shorter attn spans, Bigger egos!
    ~ Vikram

  • Dan Schawbel

    You need to just get to the point, while supplying enough information so that the person can reach you.