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E-Mail Signoffs: What To Write

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Computer - E-mail (Illustration by Nancy Palm.)

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Ruth McCann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 3, 2009; 12:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Ruth McCann was online Monday, Aug. 3, at Noon ET to discuss her Style article titled "'Best' for Last? Or Should You Sign That E-Mail With Sincerely? Regards? Cheers? Or L-, L-, Love?"

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Ruth McCann: Happy Monday. I've spent the last few weeks interrogating folks about how they close their emails (there's a link to the piece above). We're talking about the 'Best,' 'Sincerely,' 'Yours truly,' 'LMFAO,' 'Sleepless in Seattle,' sort of thing. What's appropriate? What's horrendous? How do we know?

So bring your questions, or Strong Feelings, on the topic of e-mail sign-offs, and let's discuss.

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Beltsville, Md.: What about political statements as sign-off? I use it to announce my ideology. Especially since I have disputes based on this with family members.

Ruth McCann: Be careful, kiddos! I always work myself into a slight kerfuffle when I get 'professional' e-mails in which someone (by way of their sign-off, or the inspirational quote following it) announces that they're one or all of the following:

A devotee of DMB

A libertarian

A believer in "following your bliss"

A theist

Just make sure you don't tag that stuff onto the end of work-related e-mails, because it will just (I imagine) prove distracting.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: A friend used to sign off her e-mails to me with "LOL." I, at first, guessed it meant "lots of love." You can imagine my disappointment when I learned all that time she was laughing at me.

Ruth McCann: Well I *think* I've gotten "LOL" e-mails where it *did* mean "Lots of love." Or did it?!

Anyway, since there may well be confusion, your friend might be better off using something more direct like "Hah!" or the incredibly-irritating "LAWLZ," if she insists on sending e-mails in which she's laughing at her correspondents...

And, I'm curious: How did you find out your friend was laughing at you? Did she, you know, tell you?

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D.C.: What is the best sign on (Dear...Mr...Ms...) and sign off (Best...Regards...) when e-mailing about a job you know you're not going to get?

Ruth McCann: Oh, I've been there. I mean, we *are* talking about e-mails to the tune of "Oh man, I applied for that gig at ______ (New York culture vulture mag), and it's been a week since that nightmarish long-distance phone interview, and I haven't heard anything back, and I've already burst into a fit of sleep-deprived weeping, buy I'm gonna send those clowns a pesky e-mail anyway, just to confirm that I've failed yet again"... Right?

In cases like these, I feel strongly that "Dear" is always appropriate, but I'd nix both "Best" and "Regards," since in this case they have subtextual meanings along the lines of: "I'm ingratiating myself in this, the final hour," and "Eff you, sir!" So in this case, I would go with "Sincerely," since you Sincerely want to know!

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Washington, D.C.: What a great subject to obsess about! I can't believe the meanings that people are assigning to e-mail signoffs.

First, I don't want hugs and kisses from colleagues, so am not a fan of XOXO. Ditto "love,"

I like "best" or "regards." Either one can shorthand for the full phrase "best regards" and also for other phrases, such as "best wishes" or "warm regards."

But I think we should all do as the French do: "I beg you to believe, sir or madam, in this sincere expression of my most amiable sentiments."

Ruth McCann: Maybe we should just start leaving each other a whole ton of Voicemails, and that would clear up the trauma. Plus, no one would say XOXO (except Gossip Girl).

Thanks for the French. And might I add that the Spanish salutation "Querido" is totally charming.

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Mostly Business: I mostly sign off with 'thanks!' since my e-mails are usually replies to customers. New or potential customers get a "thank you for contacting me" instead.

Some customers, I'm tempted to finish with a "never darken my door again" but I restrain myself.

Ruth McCann: "Thanks!" is indeed a good one--I'm glad you're appropriately thankful.

Tangentially, my conversations with People Who Write E-mails have informed me that "Thanks in advance" is a no-no, as is a "Thanks!" that comes at the end of an e-mail that requests something. One of my sources described it as (his words) "incredibly presumptuous." So beware.

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Austin, Tex.: For personal e-mails, "Later, MyName". Short, succint, expresses desire to stay in touch.

For work-related e-mails, "Thanks, MyName." Whether I'm actually asking for anything or not. Courteous but not unctuous.

No cutesy .sig's for me.

Ruth McCann: Hmm... I always look at those "Thanks" e-mails and wonder what it is I'm supposed to be doing to merit a "Thanks." Just makes me antsy-pantsy, fretty-Betty.

But I do like "Later," or (as a Brit friend writes) "Til soon..." which is reassuring, as it promises I haven't been cut off as a correspondent (yet...)

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Chantilly, Va.: When I get messages with "Best" at the end, I cringe. I see it as pretentious to the extreme. I usually use e-mail as an informal messaging medium and therefore simply have my name and phone number in the automatic signature added to each outgoing message. Occasionally I do need to step it up a notch and will remove the block, adding Regards and my name, position, company and contact information.

I mean, really, for the most part, I'm e-mailing the people I chat with at the coffee machine. Do I really need to let them know my address, company, title, etc.?

Ruth McCann: Out of curiosity, Chantilly, what profession are you in? I ask because I've noticed that flack and hacks really--and I mean *really*--love "Best" and feel like "Regards" is a total snub. But flacks and hacks don't own e-mail, so would you accept a "Sincerely"?

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Texas: Is there any situation where using "regards" is inappropriate when the recipient is someone I either don't know or only know in a professional capacity?

Ruth McCann: To be blunt and age-ist, I think the older your correspondent, the better the chances are that "Regards" will be welcomed warmly. But younger kiddos I've spoken to have totally dismissed "Regards," since it sounds like something Bertie Wooster's auntie would use. In a mean way.

I know this is a demanding piece of advice, but I'd advise that you ask around to figure out what people in that particular "professional capacity" normally use. Sign-offs seem, to some extent, to be industry-specific. (Remember, kids, it's "Best" for hacks, "Cheers" for flacks!)

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Annandale, Va.: And then there are sigs. I go way back but never got into sigs; they always seemed to be too much effort, like finding a Hallmark card you agree with. My kid's sig is

Failure is not an option. It comes standard with Windows.

Ruth McCann: Smart kid! (I think cutesy things are appropriate for, you know, 8-year-olds sending e-mails. Are kids doing that these days??)

"The greatest adventure you could take is living the life of your dreams." (Oprah)

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29 Palms, Calif.: My sign off is:

"The possible is already done, the impossible will take me a couple of minutes."

Ruth McCann: Hmm, I like it! Could never use it myself, though, as I'd immediately fail at whatever I'd brazenly promised to do, and bosses would be shouting (with glee?) "Where's the impossible, hmmm? Couple of minutes, huh??"

You must be a wo/man of great success.

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Spanish: Querido is a saluation. It means dear.

They would sign off like the French or sineramente, atentamente (my prefered for business), un abrazo, un saludo, un cordial saludo, saludos o besos/besitos (which are the friendly kisses, not the romantic ones).

Ruth McCann: Excellent--thanks!

Isn't it funny how 'kissies' immediately becomes more acceptable when in a foreign language? Bisous!

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Mostly Business, Again: I use thanks when the only thing I'm asking for is information so I can help that customer.

Ruth McCann: Smart wo/man! No risky business for you.

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Central Mass.: I'm old enough to have used e-mail before the Web. I've seen it evolve from an electronic version of the conventional business memo to a couple lines with no salutation and no signoff.

While I still proof-read for typos and unintended "tone", I am much more apt to tap out a quick Q or A which may be preceded by a "Hi, (name)" if I happen to like the person. With regular correspondents, I often don't even sign my name any more. It's pretty clear who it's from.

Ruth McCann: Yes, isn't it wonderful when you can be as flip/curt/silly as you like, because the correspondent will forgive anything? Seriously, it's great. Those are the easiest e-mails.

But sending e-mails asking strangers for jobs, well... huh. It's hard!

And, by the way, Miss Manners also recalled that e-mail is just an electronic memorandum, so we should all just calm down and forget greetings and sign-offs altogether. How I envy your calmness, Miss Manners!

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Washington, D.C.: I have to say I generally hate "Thanks!" In some cases, it's appropriate, but in most it is not. Don't say it unless you are actually thanking the recipient for something. A number of people I know have it as part of their signature, and that drives me crazy.

Thanks!

(See, inappropriate in this case.)

Ruth McCann: Snaps to that.

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Austin, Tex.: A related question. Some people like to put "inspirational" quotations in their signature lines. "Winners never quit; quitters never win." That kind of thing.

Those hackneyed little expressions drive me crazy. It's not that I necessarily disagree with them: as far as the above example, I agree that persistence in the face of adversity is a good thing.

But the only thing that these stupid little sentences (whether in email or elsewhere) say to me is that the person spouting them probably isn't very bright, and needs to have life simplified to nice little sayings.

Am I the only one who feels that way?

Ruth McCann: Okay, at the risk of offending half my in-box, I'm with you. Especially when the quote in question is from Mark Twain. I mean, it's clear some people just make a quick & easy expedition to WikiQuote, and that sort of blithely-borrowed wit drives me bats.

I had a correspondent who signed off with Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution." And I like the sentiment, but I couldn't help but take it personally, wondering in my irrational way, "Did I invite her to a revolution where there was... no dancing...?" I think the lesson here is that pull-quotes are distracting. Yes, distracting. Especially for us over-analyzers out here.

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Springfield, Va.: I disagree about using 'Thanks' or TIA in work e-mail. In many cases I'm asking for them to perform a standard task, and using 'Please' and 'Thanks' is good manners. Of course they're going to do it -- it's their job. I don't think that's presumptuous at all.

Ruth McCann: I haven't heard TIA before... I assume that's "Thanks in advance." I suppose that works if the person has to do the thing you want anyway, 'cause you're the boss. It's always nice to be thanked by the boss.

I meant (and my source meant) that it's presumptuous when the e-mail runs along the lines of "Oh hey... Do this thing that will benefit me and that you're not required to do."

And now something completely different: Anyone have thoughts about "Hope all's well"?

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Answer to your question on LOL: I later learned that "LOL" means laugh out loud. When I reviewed the e-mails I realized she was laughing at my humor. Oh well, so much for a belief in romantic inclincations.

Ruth McCann: I rigorously maintain that "LOL" has been used, by some folks, to mean "Lots of love." Either that, or my correspondents are pulling lotsa wool over my little eyes. (I mainly get it from family.)

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Portland, Oregon: I think that it was my time living in London, but for me I generally sign off with "Cheers." It tends to bring a chuckle/smile and is appropriate to a colleage and to a friend. Minimizes the liklihood of screwing up. :-)

Cheers! Portland, Oregon

Ruth McCann: Craig Brownstein (PR guy quoted in the article) said "Cheers!" has been rebuffed by some of his clients as being "Too PR-y," so keep that in mind. But otherwise, by virtue of its--well--cheeriness, it's a sterling choice! (Unless you're afraid of being read as an over-eager anglophile. But I mean really, why must we read into everything? Jane Austen, and indeed Lizzy Bennett, would do well here...)

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Signing off: I like "Thanks," but I sometimes use "Cheers," if there's nothing in the e-mail that needs thanking. Am I pretentious?

Ruth McCann: When I have a correspondent who's a "Cheers" user, I always wait on my little tenterhooks to see if that person actually says "Cheers" in person. And sometimes... they do! So I know it's genuine. But man, "Cheers" is an awkward word to say in person. I mean, it just sounds odd. Try it. Someone hands you a sandwich, and you say "Cheers!" Just like... Ron Weasley!

If it's at all comforting, none of my myriad sources said they found "Cheers!" pretentious. So sleep easy.

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When making requests...: So if you don't sign off with "Thanks" or "thanks in advance," what do you sign off with? I agree that both, especially the second, are presumptuous, but I've resorted to them when I could think of no other option.

Ruth McCann: A colleague here revealed that she signs off with "Yrs" since she thinks it's quirky and non-committal. Or "As ever," like Will Schwalbe. Or you could try "Best"? Or "Hope you're well"? Something positive, but undemanding? Or... dare I say it... "Cheers!"?

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TTFN: I use TTFN, as in "Ta ta for Now" from Winnie the Pooh (Tigger is the one who says it). Of course, I only use that with friends and family. It might not be so good to use for professional purposes.

Ruth McCann: Charmant! Well I'm glad *someone* is reading "Winnie the Pooh"! Whenever I'm on a bridge, I invariably blurt something about Pooh Sticks, and you can imagine the looks I get.

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Washington, D.C.: You know what bugs me? People who put a sign-off in their automatic signature, then forget it's there. So you get e-mails that have two sign-offs, or where the sign-off contradicts the message. Like the time a friend forwarded around the message from an angry client, where he called him every name in the book, threatened to sue, etc., and finished with "warm regards."

Ruth McCann: Hah! I love it.

What's up with "Warm regards"? Sounds to me like "Hot ice," "Jumbo shrimp," etc. But that's just one woman's view.

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K Street NW: Wow, I see I've committed all kinds of sins when signing off. Mostly, I use "regards" and "thanks! and "thanks in advance" and who would have ever thought one might be offending someone with a closing. As long as the sign off is pleasant, I don't mind much of anything.

Don't want to offend you or anyone else, so no sign off for me.

Ruth McCann: Well, I don't think everyone is as paranoid as all that. As Will Schwalbe & David Shipley (e-mail book writers) say, they just want everyone to relax about e-missives, and hopefully they will! Also, several of the folks I quoted noted that they often don't read 'til the end of their e-mails, 'cuz they're just too busy. Let's hope everyone is just too busy.

Confession: I, too, can't sign off any more. Every option strikes fear into my heart.

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Fairfax, Va.,: Since you're talking pretentiousness: I've seen a few folks who close e-mails with "Cheers, [name]". Ugh.

Ruth McCann: Why Ugh? Tell me! Is your reaction one or all of the following?

a) Cheers smacks of mock-Britishness, and there's nothing I hate more!

b) There is no beer in your hand-- this is e-mail!

c) You do not say that in real life.

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Silver Spring, Md.: For friend/family I have a short phrase that reflects my mood -- lately "It is What it is". Work depends on the formality. Thanks, Regards both work.

Ruth McCann: Yikes! That sounds like a bit of a downer!

I guess I need to do a re-think of "Regards"--looks like lots of you are using it.

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Bethesda, Md.: What a fun chat! I get really tired of regards when it's at the end of every e-mail in a long back and forth conversation. I usually end business e-mails with "Please let me know if you have any questions, or Thanks." My dad closes e-mails to us kids with "Call when you can."

Ruth McCann: Yes, "Please let me know if you have any questions," is, I think, a magical one. Because it communicates a willingness to help, a sense of attentiveness, etc.

My dad's e-mails all end with, I kid you not:

"This transmission and any attachments may contain information that is privileged, confidential, and/or exempt from disclosure under applicable law. If you are not the intended recipient, you are hereby notified that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or use of the information contained herein (including reliance thereon) is strictly prohibited. If you have received this transmission in error, please contact the sender immediately and destroy the material in its entirety whether electronic or hard copy format."

Do I get sued for saying that?

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Charles Town, W.Va.: I usually end the (e-mail) cover letter accompanying a resume by saying something like "I know you are receiving a tremendous volume of resumes for this position, and I do sincerely appreciate your attention." My wife says that I'm being ridiculously pedantic; what do you think?

Ruth McCann: This is just A View of My Own, but I think that sign-off is just right. I think it would most certainly turn pedantic if you said something like "...and I do sincerely appreciate your giving me extra-special attention, 'cause I'm the hire of a lifetime." Like Tobias sending out glitter gift-bags on Arrested Development. Anyone?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Please, no "Have a blessed day" in anything business-related. I don't want religion push on me in the work place!

Ruth McCann: I would agree that religion-in-work will end nowhere good, if only because it's just a wee bit confusing/distracting/kerfuffle-ing.

Unless you're a nun. An e-mailing nun.

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Washington, D.C.: I use "rgds" just like that. informal version of the formal.

Ruth McCann: C'mon man! Type it out, type it out!

I mean, doesn't that seem a bit like you 'Regard' the person well enough to write to them, but not to hit a few extra keys?

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Central Virginia: Little bothers me in e-mail signoffs. Unless I am asking for something (in which case, thank you is appropriate), I just use my name. Funny, though, the only time I have ever been slightly annoyed is when I get "Later, John." I don't know why that is bothersome; I guess it seems very dismissive to me.

You just cannot please everyone!

Ruth McCann: Am glad you're so laid-back! Schwalbe & Shipley would be chuffed.

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Portland, Oregon re: Cheers (again): It's a good thing that I work as a regulatory engineer for a medical device company... there's very little risk I'll come off as sounding to "PR-y." But definitely something to keep in mind.

Ruth McCann: Lucky you! Any medicine-themed sign-offs we can filch?

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Ruth McCann: Thanks for the thoughtful questions! Apologies to those we didn't get to. As always, you can leave comments on the article.

Cheers!

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