My earlier salutations piece created a fair bit of chatter, so I thought it was high time for the sequel. I might even get stuck into attachments next. Make it a trilogy. Anyway, the reason so many people ruminate on the language of email is because none of us are quite sure we’re doing it properly. For most, email etiquette wasn’t taught in school. And our parents certainly can’t enlighten us. So we’re all just muddling along and hoping we’re doing it right.
Ahrwa Mahdawi won’t approve but, when it comes to email signoffs, I’m a “Best” man. I don’t know when it started and I don’t really know what it means. But that’s my signoff of choice. I guess it’s an abbreviation of “Best wishes”. Apparently, I don’t have that extra second to spare for the full version – or maybe I just don’t want to be associated with the term “best wishes”. After all, I’m not a 99p birthday card.
“Best” is also a bastardised version of the slightly more jovial “All the best”, which in turn is an ellipsis of “I wish you all the best of luck.” Now that’s a bit much: “Can you make that meeting at three? I wish you all the best of luck in finding out.” Google Calendar isn’t that treacherous.
“All the best” was ruined for me during a stay in a Miami hostel. I arrived back one evening to discover a couple of my fellow travellers had just got matching tattoos. One had ATB on his bicep, the other on his wrist. Apparently it was their holiday catchphrase. I haven’t used it since.
At least “Best” is better than “Yours” – short for “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully”, those annoying twins that refuse to die. “Yours sincerely” is just a bit square. I mean, office life is dull enough; do we really have to bring insincere sincerity into it? “Yours faithfully” is even worse. Far too overblown, it’s a pious throwback to a time when written communication involved actual effort – aching, ink-stained hands and all that. Nowadays, your average millennial is never more than 90 seconds away from a Whatsapp notification. I don’t need to prove my trustworthiness to you. You can believe what I say or not. It’s only one of 100 messages I’ll send today.
And so we get to the initialled signoff. Equal parts smug and cutesy, these were derided as the “latest email fad” five years ago. Turns out that fad had some staying power. Whether teamed with a “Best” or a “Yours”, or just hanging out on their lonesome, these initials are increasingly prevalent in our inboxes. Call me old-fashioned, but you should have to earn the right to call someone by the diminutive of their name. This assumed, nay, foisted closeness overrides the natural order of relationships. We’re not exiled comrades scribbling snatched notes from different gulags or lovers separated by oceans. We’re just two colleagues trying to agree on a meeting time. Let’s just pop the whole name down, shall we?
So what signoffs do I agree with? I prefer things people actually say in real life. I’m talking “Thanks” and “Nice one”. “Cheers” is a good, solid choice too. Its connotations of merriment provide recipients with a fleeting reminder that the world of the pub and the dinner table still exists beyond the email chain in front of them. It also reminds them they’re dealing with a real person.
Another option is to go with nothing. Just say what you’ve got to say, press send, and get the hell out of there. Will people be able to handle such curtness? Yes, probably. However, will they definitely know the message has ended or worry that some Ctrl and Enter debacle has occurred? Get around this by tacking on “Have a good day” or, depending on your industry, a kiss or two. Perhaps even an emoji. They’re popular now.
So, what’s my final word on email’s final words? Well, I think I’ve had a kind of signoff epiphany while writing this piece. “Cheers” is warm and friendly. It’s breezy yet genuine. That said, it’s not for everyone. Writing in the Telegraph, Josephine Fairly casually dismisses it as “my most loathed signoff”. Each to their own.
Whatever you go for, your signoff should reflect your personality, writing style and, of course, the content of your email. Don’t go throwing in “Nice one” if you’ve just informed someone they’re terminally incompetent. Don’t end with “Yours sincerely” if you’ve finally started building a rapport with a new client. Just like salutations, email signoffs are a tonal minefield. So tread carefully.
Joseph Richardson is a copywriter at Barnaby Benson Copywriting.
Twitter: @BB Copywriting