Our guide to this small but important part of email etiquette.
Email remains a vital form of business communications, despite the increased use of SMS, social media and new tools such as Slack. It’s a little more formal than other forms of digital communication, so it pays to take a little more time composing (and editing) your email.
But how should you sign off an email? It’s a small thing but it can help make the right – or wrong – impression.
First off, never sign off a business email with XX [kisses], even if the recipient is someone you know well enough to do the “mwah, mwah” thing in person.
Regards” and “Yours” are widely used and therefore widely acceptable. They're both safe choices in a business context, for example when telling a supplier you'll settle their account next week or when sending invitations to a privileged customer shopping event. We'd suggest either of these as your default closing, but steer clear of variants such as “Yours truly” which haven't made a comfortable migration from paper.
When informality is appropriate, “Cheers” is commonly used and widely understood. “Best” is also popular, though we sometimes wonder “Best what?”
“As ever” is reportedly favoured in certain countries, but it seems out of place in Australia and for that reason is probably better avoided.
We’ve read elsewhere to avoid “Thanks” but we think it is appropriate when you're asking for something or acknowledging receipt of something you previously requested.
Exclamation marks are often used with “Thanks!” or “Thank you!” – in fact, we feel it's overused and generally over-the-top or unnecessary.
Presumably working on the basis that an email is more akin to a memo than a letter – after all, the sender's name does appear at the top – some people sign off with just their first name or initial, or nothing at all.
Our feeling is that omitting the closing completely is generally too cold, and it may leave the recipient wondering if you mistakenly clicked the Send button before finishing the message. However, it’s generally fine for rapid back-and-forth communication, especially with people you know well. (Some people will say you shouldn't use email for that purpose, but it's often the only mutually acceptable channel.)
An initial does at least signal that the message is complete, but is more suitable as a sign-off for shorter emails to people you know well as it can seem abrupt after several paragraphs of text.
An unadorned first name seems reasonably safe at first glance. After all, one of the hallmarks of Australian culture is that almost everyone is on first-name terms after the briefest acquaintance. It can seem terse (though less so than an initial) so we generally favour the closings recommended above, but it can work for brief messages where you're communicating information that carries no emotional overtones, such as “We are extending our Friday trading hours to 8pm starting 24 June 2016” as opposed to “Please settle your overdue account within seven days.”
Whichever closings you favour – we don't believe any one fits every situation – you can save time and effort by using keyboard macro software that expands a couple of keystrokes into your favourite sign-offs. This capability is built into OS X (System Preferences>Keyboard>Text) and is provided by various Windows utilities.
AutoHotKey seems well regarded, and its complexities can be largely ignored if all you want to do is automatically expand something like “\r” into “Regards, Jane”.
What email sign-offs do you like and dislike? We welcome your comments below.