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An e-mail mess: Can I get your signature?

I have the same conversation over e-mail every few weeks. Somebody will ask for my contact details with words to the effect of "Just need your shipping address and phone number," and I will reply with some variation of "see below."

What appears below in my reply will be the same block of text that runs at the end of all my messages -- the signature my mail software automatically appends:

Rob Pegoraro
robp@washpost.com / 202-334-6394
Consumer Technology Columnist / The Washington Post
1150 15th St. NW / Washington, DC 20071 / washingtonpost.com/robpegoraro

In other cases, I will look in vain for a signature listing a sender's phone number or street address and can only hope that they thought to mention those details in the body of an earlier message.

Apparently, this basic ingredient of e-mail -- and, in some cases, creative outlet -- has fallen so far out of favor that some people don't know to look for it, much less use it themselves.

Much of the blame for that must fall on users who seem incapable of, you know, reading an entire message. But after thinking I could finish off this post with a quick series of links to the help pages of popular mail programs and services -- then often failing to find those things -- I'm starting to think developers constitute part of the problem, too.

In some cases, a simple search for "[mail application name] signature help" yielded the desired page as the first result -- for example, Microsoft's Outlook and (painfully obsolete) Outlook Express, Apple's Mail, Google's Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

But in other cases, I couldn't find any directions from the company responsible. For example, a search for "signature" on the help pages for Microsoft's Hotmail service and Windows Live Mail desktop software yielded zero results in each case.

(Fortunately, About.com offers good cheat sheets for the service and the software; the latter also covers the Windows Mail application that shipped with Windows Vista.)

Mozilla Thunderbird 3 was a weird case. The help site available from within the application includes correct directions. But this mail program's tech-support forum and the first Web-search result both pointed to an article written for older versions of the program, in which the process of adding a signature was less obvious.

Do you use a signature in your own correspondence? If not, why not?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  March 1, 2010; 12:02 PM ET
Categories:  E-mail  
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Comments

Nope, if it's for work it's mostly internal only and we have a phone book for that, if it's personal you have it already or it's only by request.

Sigs are so 1998. :)

Posted by: Hemisphire | March 1, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

I have Windows mail.....hit "tools", "options", click "signatures" tab and there ya go.

Posted by: tbva | March 1, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Have one for work. But home e-mails, the "signature" depends on who it's going to, and possibly the subject, so I tend to do those "by hand". The way I did back in the pre e-mail days.

Posted by: wiredog | March 1, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

I use a signature for my work email, but do not use a signature for my personal email.

Posted by: Arlington4 | March 1, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

I have several accounts, and I use a signature for each of them. Thunderbird 3 broke my favorite signature extension, but there is another good one here: http://mozext.achimonline.de/

Posted by: catester | March 1, 2010 1:01 PM | Report abuse

I use a signature for work e-mail, not for personal. When I e-mail people from the former, it is most likely business contacts that may need it. If I'm e-mailing someone from my personal e-mail account, it's someone I'm friends with and they already know my contact information (read: cell phone).

Posted by: Blue02dude | March 1, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

My work signature contains my full contact information. The people getting work emails are generally people with a potential legitimate need for that information.

The home version contains just the email address (for folks on mailing lists) and my personal web site. Since not everyone I correspond with via email is someone I want to give my home address, phone number to, that information remains by request.

Posted by: dactyl | March 1, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I use a sig for my professional/business emails; and yes, it's mighty frustrating that I am asked for my contact info when it's sitting there in the signature--it happens at least every few days.

Perhaps we should start using letterhead for email? So it is less (won't say un) avoidable to be viewed?

Howard

Posted by: howardstuff | March 1, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Wow, if only you wrote this two weeks ago.

After a crash of Windows, I decided to transfer my Outlook 2003 messages to a Mac, and then, use Thunderbird for my mail. It really took a long while to figure out how to do it. In fact, I even asked you a couple of questions in one or two of your chats.

As hard as it was to do, I had an equally hard time creating and using a signature block for Thunderbird 3. I realize it’s “new to the scene,” but how about giving us some new directions and support. I too only found “old” documents for older versions. It is sad we have to use a search engine to find help that should be available on the support pages of the application.

Now, I have a signature block, but on my end the links are clickable, but they are once the message is sent. Bad support or documentation leads to less people wanting to adopt or try a new application.

Posted by: ummhuh1 | March 1, 2010 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Nah, my e-mail address is my signature (it also givs my name).
Bulky sigs just make e-mail...bulkier

Posted by: GWGOLDB | March 1, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I concur with the rest. Business uses a signature, not personal. I have a question, though: What about a friend who uses a set of signature lines that are longer than the email itself? Is there something that I can say to this person (a professional) about this extremely long, even tacky signature line. BTW, the signature line includes a 4 line purpose statement of the organization, a 4 line personal signature, and a 5 line thing about his child with special needs. None of the things are bad, but it is just information overload on every email this person sends out! Can I say something? Should I say something? Or just smile and ignore it?

Posted by: rjrjj | March 1, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Sigs are no good because they do not change as needed over time. If someone needs my current info, I want them to ask me, not to search their old e-mails to me for a shipping address or phone number, both of which might have changed.

Posted by: Dawny_Chambers | March 1, 2010 6:10 PM | Report abuse

"As hard as it was to do, I had an equally hard time creating and using a signature block for Thunderbird 3. I realize it’s “new to the scene,” but how about giving us some new directions and support. I too only found “old” documents for older versions."

I didn't have to look up any documentation to create a signutare. Edit > Account Settings, and in the main panel there, you see "Signature text." This is Thunderbird 3.0.2. The only way they could put the option more up in your face would be to pop up a reminder box - "You haven't configured a signature yet - please do so now."

The only hard thing about it was that I had to add html tags so that it would use the proportionally-spaced font I had chosen. But was the option hard to find, or to figure out? No. The signature box is very well placed in the interface - almost easier than Apple Mail.

Posted by: jamshark70 | March 1, 2010 10:37 PM | Report abuse

I use Eudora. I'm retired, so the emails are personal. I have 58 signatures, including the obvious "none". The default is that one. I have to want to leave a signature to leave one. My rule is 4 lines or less (most are one or two lines). There are a very few, rarely used quotes that are more for special occasions. And there's one that is longer that I use when annoyed by a particular bunch of folks who insist on sending me video files that are found as the first or second videos on YouTube. They seem to never have learned to do that and send the URL. They may not even know what a URL IS.

Here's the one I send 'em:
==
I recommend that you send folks the URL for the YouTube video instead of sending the video itself. This is to take pity on those of lower bandwidth connections. Make you able to reach them without upsetting them by sending a large file. AND (most importantly) be able to know that YouTube has carefully scanned the video to be sure it is free of malicious code, where one you received by email and passed on may not have that done. Just a thought.
==

I used to like the Fidonet mail program I used. It had a randomized list of clever (and short) sayings. But, even THAT got very old after a while. I've come to believe that no signature at all is best. Your name is almost universally sent with the email. If it is not, then simply having your name be the signature is best.

Posted by: RHMathis | March 1, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

this was true in the old more innocent days. But nowadays, where I have multiple (read numerous) email accounts just so that I can keep spam and other garbage out it is not advisable to have the whole signature bit.

My email account management is as follows:

1) one email account for one way communications equivalent to the "noreply" ids that big companies use. That is for things like charitable donations etc. where they furiously harvest email addresses and bombard you with messages. Inbox never checked except to keep the account alive.
2) an email address for the marginally useful ones -- WaPo registration, NY times registration etc :=) Inbox never checked except to keep the account alive.
3) the next level is for the airlines, hotels etc where I will check my inbox once in two weeks.
4) The still next level is for marginal personal friends/acquaintances who have just been introduced, or who have not proven trustworthy. These are the guys who keep forwarding you junk and chain mail. I give these guys a low priority email and check that inbox only infrequently.
5) The next level of email address is for my trusted circle of personal friends, business colleagues who interact at a personal level etc. This one I check quite frequently.
6) and then of course there is the business email which shows up instantaneously and is replied to as quickly as needed.
7) There is still more a level of email address for my bank accounts and other more financial and sensitive information.
8) then there are throw away emails for some rebates forms, claim codes etc.

That's how I keep my sanity. Now, which ones should I use my "Signature" on again??!!

Posted by: kblgca | March 2, 2010 1:10 AM | Report abuse

Hmm, When I took biz courses in College the Name and address of the biz & person were always supposed to be at the top. The signature is often used for Name of person sending the letter. Some email programs allow you to insert a email replay introduction string, so I use

Acme Biz
123 Main St
Anytown, CT

From the desk of: Steve Jones

Dear Mr. Smith,

blah blah

--
Sincerely,
Steve Jones
651-555-1212
s.jones@invalid

Posted by: kilowattradio123 | March 2, 2010 5:43 AM | Report abuse

I fail to see why the attitude that a signature addition is considered de rigeur for routine e-mail. Like regular mail, the address is on the envelope (so to speak) and I usually put my name at the bottom of any message.

I make an exception for certain formal e-mails, almost universally those for work, and even there usually only for the first initial contact, though even that is largely because of work requirement to have something along the lines of "opinion contained within represent the author and not the organization."

It seem silly to write a message "I'm still waiting for the file zzz. Please send it as soon as it's ready." with a signature five times the length of the message itself.

Signatures at the bottom of the message should be for initial formal contacts. Just like formal business letters.

Posted by: jesseallen | March 2, 2010 7:53 AM | Report abuse

I never use signatures.

Why in the world would I want to broadcast all my contact details to every person I send an email to? When you answer your phone, do you immediately tell the person on the other end your address and all your phone numbers?

Identify theft waiting to happen....

Posted by: boomer5 | March 2, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Nope, although I wish I could. I use gmail and the signature is not the same font I use nor can I figure out how to make that happen. I used a signature for a while but it just looked too odd so I dropped it. I think I remember to add that information when it's needed. I hope I do.

Posted by: gsdlea | March 2, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I use a full signature (name, physical address, phone/cell #, email) for all business and professional emails. For personal ones I customize to fit the situation.

Posted by: J-Man50 | March 2, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Rob, I can see why you use a full info signature.
If I was running a business, etc., I would use one, too.

However, my email is for personal correspondence only (that does not mean email "to person only") and I do not use one. With so many people who have no clue about using Bcc: when addressing multiple recipients, the last thing I need is an address harvester getting hold of my physical address and phone number (unlisted).

Posted by: observer31 | March 2, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I use a signature at work, in part to promote my organization's Web site, Twitter and FB pages. I also typically utilize a sentence of text at the end to highlight a conference or something like that.

What I HATE however, is people who include some kind of pithy quote at the end. It's like saying, "Look at me, I'm so smart. Love me for my brilliance!"

Posted by: njacobs | March 2, 2010 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Signatures should be required for work e-mail. Companies should set standards for all of their employees to be sending the same information. On the other hand, the 3 page confidentiality notice that is auto appended should go. To many times I am searching through an e-mail thread for a sentence of info, but I have to parse 3 books worth of confidentiality notices.

Posted by: goat22 | March 2, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

This is a timely piece. I thought this was a problem only for my family and friends. I live overseas and recently there was a personal crisis and family and friends took hours to track down my phone number--although I had sent it to them in text many times.

No need for email signature detail provided someone writes down info on paper or uses a computer address book to record updates. Now I put all contact detail on personal emails as I have for years with professional ones.

Posted by: walden1 | March 2, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

As with so many others here... Only for my work e-mail. On my personal email. I don't want to blast my private information to every random person, company, customer service dept in india, etc... that I send an e-mail to. For the people I wouldn't mind sending it to, they probably already know it anyway, and I think it looks prententious for personal e-mails.

Posted by: paul_silver_spring | March 2, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I use a signature block for all my e-mails, personal and professional. When I prefer to not reveal my contact information, I just delete it. I think that people who don't add one are risking that people who don't known them well may be suspicious without a physical address. I don't want to be taken as a person who warrants suspicion, so I add one.

I look at it the same way with Internet businesses. I do not trade with any company whose physical address and phone number do not appear on the website.

My pet peeve, however, is with businesses that post disclaimers at the end of messages, "if you received this message by accident, you must delete it, etc., etc." This is blatant disinformation. If they are so stupid as to send me their business plans by their own volition, then they, not I, are to blame. They are just trying to shift the blame. I'd like to hear from a disinterested lawyer about this.

Posted by: jwcross | March 2, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

In the Canadian government, you are supposed to have a signature block that contains all the following information (French and English). The good thing is it is comprehensive, on the other hand, with a BlackBerry, each signature block takes more than a screen so there is a lot of excess scrolling in a long email string.

Common Look and Feel Standards for the Internet,
Part 4: Standard on Email
3.1 Contact information for individuals
The institution respects the requirements of the Federal Identity Program policy and Official Languages Policies by ensuring that email messages sent by its employees to all non-Government of Canada recipients include a signature block in both official languages that contains the elements described in requirements 3.1.1 to 3.1.10.

3.1.1 The sender's given name or initial(s).
3.1.2 The sender's family name.
3.1.3 The sender's organizational information.
3.1.4 Email address.
3.1.5 Telephone number with area code in the format 613-999-1234 and extension number where applicable preceded by the words “Telephone | Téléphone”.
3.1.6 Teletypewriter number with area code in the format 819-999-1234 preceded by the words “Teletypewriter | Téléimprimeur”.
3.1.7 Facsimile number with area code in the format 604-999-1234 preceded by the words “Facsimile | Télécopieur”.
3.1.8 Postal address.
3.1.9 The institution's applied title. The Federal Identity Program provides a listing of titles of federal organizations.
3.1.10 The text “Government of Canada | Gouvernement du Canada”.

Posted by: OttawaForester | March 2, 2010 12:47 PM | Report abuse

I always use a complete signature but NO graphics or logos.

And come on, why the 9-page legal disclaimers in every email that lawyers and others send? This is corporate policy run amok! What is the point?

Posted by: SlideRule | March 2, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

My work signature is as follows:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
John Smith, P.E.
Acme Products, Inc.
Manager
123 Main Street
Richmond, VA 33333
(804) 555-5555
fax (804) 555-5556
www . acmeproducts . com

I feel it gets across the pertinent information and no more. I see no reason to put my email address in the signature since anyone getting my email, almost by definition, has my email. The >>> lines are kind of extraneous but they're an easy way to make the signature stand out. I've been doing signatures that way since college in the late '90's.

My pet peeve is companies who feel they need to state something like "this message should only be read by the intended recipient. Any unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. If you have received this email in error, kindly tear your eyeballs out of their sockets and perform ritual seppukku."

I'm not a lawyer but I'm pretty sure those warnings are more or less completely useless.

Posted by: marclips | March 2, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Yes, I use a signature at work using Outlook 2007.

Posted by: jkuttler | March 2, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

I use a signature for work emails. Email in general isn't the most professional looking thing, so a signature helps. I do refuse requests from the marketing department to include a sentence in my signature about some product we're pushing. Tacky and lame.

Personal email, no. If everybody did, the threads would get too long.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | March 2, 2010 4:24 PM | Report abuse

I use the following signatures (but modify the personal one to include my phone number depending on who it's going to):

work:

--Sam Felis
703.123.4567

personal:

--Sam

I see no need for a street address; all the junk mail providers already seem to have it. ;-)

Posted by: SamFelis | March 2, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I use signatures on personal and work e-mail and have done so since establishing my first e-mail accounts in 1982. For those who do not use any signatures on e-mail, you must not work at something important enough to be certain people can respond to you. Of course I do not forward joke e-mails or broadcast e-mails or send e-mails to total strangers. But sending e-mail without signatures violates employer policy and would restrict a valuable source of new business, i.e. referrals. I am also reminded of the excellent opportunities I could not pass on quickly to earlier associates, because they provided no contact details in their e-mail signatures. Oh well...

Posted by: thw2001 | March 2, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

I had no idea this topic would draw so many responses... thanks, everyone!

@ummhuh1: This post is more like two years old--I wrote an outline of it, then set that draft aside when real news emerged. I finally took a hammer to its "break glass in case of blog-fodder shortage" enclosure on Monday morning. I suppose I shouldn't have waited so long...

@goat22: I hate those disclaimers too. Maybe ten years ago, during a really slow news week, I wrote a column making fun of them.

@OttawaForester: Thanks for your response / Merci pour votre réponse.

Everyone who distinguished between signatures on personal and work e-mail: That's a good point (I was primarily addressing business use, since that's where I keep having this problem), and I understand where you're coming from.

FWIW, I once listed my full street address in one of the signatures on my home account, which I only used that with some recipients. Now I just list my city and state on my personal signature.

- RP

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | March 2, 2010 6:19 PM | Report abuse

Business e-mail - I use a full sig block for emails to individuals outside my organization.

Home email - I don't use a sig block as such, because the amount of info needed varies wildly depending on what the email is about. At the moment I'm using a short quote, before which I do add at least my first name (more if needed to ensure recognition).

Best reason for not doing without a sig block entirely - office email addresses frequently don't keep up with name changes, and home emails may use a 'handle' rather than a name. A recent email correspondence I've seen has addressed the individual at the other end by two different last names, not knowing whether to go by her signature or her email address! User error on her part, too, but it does demonstrate the problem...

Posted by: fsd50 | March 2, 2010 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I use my signature on every work email. WHY? Because to me this is convenient for others, simplifies the emails asking where to send things, and is just good sense. Further, I list all my websites on there so others can review them. I even putour booth number for next year's CES booth on there.

Look, my job is business development. It is damned hard to be doing my job without laying out all the info I feel others could want of me. It drives me crazy when I look back thru the last 20 incoming emails from a professional and all I get is his or her stupid name. How in balazes do I fill out my outlook and balckberry contact without this info. So then I have to start asking the professional to send this to me. Maybe ten requests later he finally gives me where is blazes he is located and how to phone him. No, a signature in an email is not so 1989. It is still the mark of someone who is organized, efficient, and wants to get things done.

NOW... can we talk about the idiots who send emails without a subject line. I delete all of them without opening them. If you are that big of an idiot that you can't tell me why you are emailing... I do not need you or your email!

Posted by: EZReader1 | March 3, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

I have three e-mail addresses and I use an autosignature on the business one only. If I need one on either of the others, I'll insert it manually. When it comes to business-related e-mail, if I'm corresponding with a client or with opposing counsel, and if I'm the one who initiates the contact, I view e-mail as being very similar to formal correspondence, such that not only is a signature required, but also the message should be as close as possible to a formal printed letter. That is, the inside address isn't needed, nor is the date since the e-mail system includes it, but I will begin the message with "Dear Mr. Smith:" followed by the text in proper paragraphs and such. The autosignature is the substitute for using letterhead paper. I take this approach because, as indicated before, I'm an attorney. That means I have to think about my correspondence, whether on paper or electronic, possibly being produced in the future in court, so it's better to err on the side of being formal. (Plus I think it just looks better when dealing with a client anyway.) If I'm REPLYING to someone, I might dispense with the salutation if the message I've received warrants a less-formal response, but the autosignature remains.

As to personal messages, 95% of the time the person to whom I'm sending the message already has all the information that would appear in the autosignature.

Posted by: 1995hoo | March 5, 2010 10:44 AM | Report abuse

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