Ask Alto: How to sign off business emails
“Well, I firmly clasp and kiss your hand. Keep well, cheerful, happy, work, leap, let yourself be carried away, sing and, if possible, don’t forget a provincial writer, your zealous admirer…”
This is how Russian playwright Anton Chekhov signed off a letter to actress Olga Knipper in the 1880s.
That’s a personal letter. Formal letters were equally flowery though: “We remain, dear Sir, Your obedient servants” is one example from a book published in 1876.
A century and more later, it’s a rare person who sends a letter, formal or informal. Instead, there are WhatsApps, LinkedIn messages and – of course – email, the mainstay of business communication.
But just because it’s electronic does not mean it’s not important – and our email sign-offs are as worthy of thought as valedictions were in the nineteenth century. As writer Maria Popova points out, how people end an email carries hidden meaning: “their warmth or coldness, the degree of familiarity they connote, the expectation they imply”. When a headstrong and autocratic CEO has four ways of signing emails, his team can’t help but wonder: what is the difference between a mail signed “Kind regards” and one signed “Warm regards” – and then what about “Warmest” and the dreaded “Regards” with no qualifying adjective? And what is the fall-out going to be at the next executive meeting?
Instilling this kind of fear in employees is not the ideal way to run a company (though it does demonstrate the power of email). So it’s a good idea, as a guest columnist for The Economist points out, to consider “how your missive’s ending will be perceived on the other end, not least because it is likely to be archived away in perpetuity.”
Consider your reader
The question of how your email will be understood by its recipient is the crucial starting point for deciding on a sign-off. And that consideration is probably the reason that 78% of people responding on an AltoPartners LinkedIn poll said they ended their emails with the word “regards”.
As Grammarly says, “regards” works in professional emails “precisely because there’s nothing unexpected or remarkable about it”. Other variations on this theme in the comments on the poll include “warm regards”, “best regards” and “kind regards”. “Yours sincerely” did not fare as well in the AltoPartners poll – although Grammarly suggests that it might work for a covering letter.
Consider your email content
The key is to distinguish between strictly professional emails (possibly to a person you have never met) and emails to colleagues that you know well:
Possible formal business closings: In addition to “regards” and “sincerely”, “best wishes” has a blend of friendliness and formality which makes it a safe bet.
Informal business closing suggestions: Cheers, Best, As ever.
Gratitude is important
There’s a third category of email – the expression of either a request, or gratitude. AltoPartners poll participants suggested “Many thanks” or “Thanks in advance” for these emails. It’s worth nothing a 2017 study by email app Boomerang which found that ending an email with an expression of gratitude correlated with a 36% relative increase in average response rate compared to signing off another way.
Don’t do this!
Only two percent of the respondents in the AltoPartners poll reckoned that their email signature alone was good enough, for good reason. Grammarly says: “Not signing an initial email or using only the formal signature you’ve created to append to your outgoing emails comes off as impersonal. These might work in emails to friends, but not in business emails.”
Other ways not to end off a business email, according to Business Insider:
- ‘TTYL,’ ‘TAFN,’ etc: Avoid slang and acronyms, like TTYL (“talk to you later”) or TAFN (“that’s all for now”). These are unprofessional and confusing.
- Love or xx or xoxo: Just don’t
- Yours truly: comes across as fake
- Have a blessed day: makes assumptions that your recipient is religious.
A new addition to email closings
A relatively recent pandemic-induced addition to email closings and signatures is a sentence (or two) that indicates you don’t expect the recipient to attend to your email immediately. This seems to have become more popular in the havoc wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. Writing in April 2020, Laurie Greer, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, Business Development and Members at NextUp, said people were finding themselves working from 7 to 9pm or starting work at 5am. “You want to ensure that you are conveying that your odd hours don’t demand a response during what might be outside their own work/life balance,” she wrote, adding that she had taken to adding this to her emails: “I work on a flexible work schedule and across a number of time zones so I’m sending this message now because it works for me. Feel free to read, act on or respond at a time that works for you.”
And what about “sent from my phone”?
Opinion is divided on this one. The Economist says it can act as an explanation for brevity and typos – but can equally look like virtue-signalling: “I’m not at my desk but answered anyway.”
Grammarly on the other hand is adamantly opposed: “it conveys that you don’t care enough to do away with the default email signature that came stock with your device’s email app”. However, if you do to change that default signature, you could say: * Sent via carrier pigeon * Sent from my pretentious self-advertising mobile device * Sent from my smartphone so please forgive any mistakes * Sent from my mobile. Fingers big. Keyboard small.
Or perhaps, poetry:
I mail on the move… So excuse my brevity… Here is a Haiku