Monday 5 December 2016

Best wishes? You're doing it wrong! The ultimate guide to email etiquette

How do you sign off an email? Times are changing and traditional choices like 'Best' and 'Kind Regards' don't cut it anymore. Josephine Fairley shows you how to do it

Josephine Fairley

Published 11/06/2015 | 02:30

How do you sign off your email?
How do you sign off your email?

When was the last time you gave a millisecond's thought to how you sign off your emails?

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Do you reach for the safety of 'yours sincerely', 'kind regards' or 'best wishes' without so much as a thought for the recipient? It's something so many of us are guilty of.

And yes, it might be time to reset your sign-off, if a new Bloomberg report is to be believed. It quotes PR director and careers expert Paul MacKenzie-Cummins saying that 'best' anything is a total cop-out.

It's part of a wider trend of "vulgarised and lazy" language in emails,' he says.

Ouch.

Apparently 'best' comes across as insincere - because let's face it, you're not really sending them your 'best' anything.

It should be reserved for family members, your paramour - heck, even the cat, in some households. But someone you met fleetingly at a conference three months ago? Not so much. Yet 'best', notes MacKenzie-Cummins, has boomed over the last few years.

He notes that many people now leave off the closing noun altogether. So it's just 'best' - leaving the rest to the imagination.

Text-speak, MacKenzie-Cummins notes, "has had the effect of diluting and, arguably, dumbing down the language we use.

"Ten years ago, for instance, few (if any) emails would end with 'BW" ('best wishes') or 'KR' ('kind regards') yet these are widely used today".

It's an etiquette conundrum - one that many of us didn't even realise we were being judged on.

Back when I was at secretarial college (when you also actually had to lick a stamp), we learned two ways to sign-off correspondence: 'yours sincerely' if you'd met the person, and 'yours faithfully' if you hadn't.

That, clearly, is almost as outdated as the quill and inkwell - but what should replace it?

According to etiquette expert William Hanson, acceptable alternatives are: 'with all good wishes' (I'd say that's fine at Christmas only) and 'thanks so much'.

I'm not so sure. So here's what I'd recommend:

'Thanks'

That's it. Short, sweet and to the point - and if you're not thanking them for something they've done, you're thanking them for something they're going to do, which is even more potent.

'See you on the....'

I can never have dates in the diary repeated too often, having twice stiffed people due to diary malfunctions recently.

Something memorable and unique

Digital sports programmer Melissa Geisler, while working for Yahoo!, used the somewhat mystifying quotation: 'The Bird is equal to or greater than the Word', which she'd apparently picked up from TV show Family Guy.

At least it made her emails memorable, in a sea of corporate blah - and it even got her quoted in Forbes, which is rarely the destiny of most emails.

Meanwhile last year, tech entrepreneur Kathryn Parsons solved the problem by deleting her entire inbox.

Nothing

No goodbye. No farewell. No adieu. (No 'pip pip' - a phrase used by a friend of a friend, which the Jeeves reader in me rather fancies, actually - at least it's jauntily different).

Strangely, nobody seems to fret over brevity when the only sign-off is 'Sent from my iPhone' - and cutting out the greeting altogether shaves two words off the end of an email. Multiply that by (modestly) 100 emails a day.

That's 200 fewer words you need to spend time reading.

'Enjoy your weekend'

Useful for any Friday communication, because there isn't a person alive who doesn't like a little reminder that soon they will be sitting in the sun, glass of wine in hand. Ditto, at the start of the week:

'Have a great week'.

But forget 'have a nice day'. Step too far on the cheer-o-meter. Also see: emoji.

Do you sign off email using emoticons?

'Keep up the good work'

Useful for any sign-off with a co-worker or employee. We all like to be praised, right?

Match it to the tone of the email

If your sign-off doesn't echo the sentiment of the main text, it could be seen as sarcastic - don't haul a colleague over the coals and finish it, 'warmly', or 'cheers' (my most loathed end to any email).

Personally, I don't give a flying fig about how someone signs off an email (the briefer the better, frankly). After all, I work in an area of the media where kisses are an acceptable sign-off - however that might make an outraged Mr MacKenzie-Cummins splutter.

To me, far, far more important is having the contact info for the sender underneath the signature itself.

Have a think, then, about how you sign off. Is there a better, more modern way? Is there a way that's actually helpful to the person you're contacting? Are you ready to go cold turkey and opt for brevity, and no sign-off at all?

To which, I can only add. Nothing. XXX.

Irish Independent

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