Email Signature Etiquette: The Good, the Bad and the Unnecessary

Animation of a person sending an email at a desk.

In the everyday workplace tech toolbox, the email signature is often overlooked and underappreciated. If it’s been a while since you created your email signature, it’s time to give it a review.

Essential elements of an email signature

The most important part of the email signature is your contact information, says business etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. If someone needs to follow up with you, they should immediately know how. That means you should always include the following:

  • Your full name
  • Your phone number (and fax or mobile numbers, if pertinent)

These elements are optional but often helpful:

  • Your company name and website
  • Your firm's mailing address
  • Social media links to either your company's or your personal accounts
  • Your email address, in case the email is forwarded

If you are emailing clients as well as internal contacts, you might consider constructing custom variations of your email signature. An internal email signature might just include your name, position and extension number. An external email signature, on the other hand, could include more detailed contact information plus a line touting your company’s latest product or service offering. Outlook makes it easy to create multiple custom signatures — you can see step-by-step instructions on Microsoft's website.

It’s easy to have your email app automatically add your signature line to every email you send. But if you’re in an ongoing email conversation with someone, it’s OK — and often preferred — to omit your signature after the first time.

Take your business emails to the next level with our guide to formatting emails in Microsoft Outlook.

What to leave out of your email signature

When it comes to your email signature, less is often more. Many of the elements people often include are largely unnecessary. For example:

  • Your personal signature — Despite the name, your email signature line shouldn’t have an actual image of your signature in it because extraneous images in emails are likely to trigger spam filters and might not show up in the recipient’s default email view.
  • Fun fonts and colors — You might be tempted to spice up your signature with custom colors and fonts, but Whitmore suggests showing restraint. “I’m not a fan of that because not everybody’s computer will pick up on that. It’s better to keep it simple,” she says. The custom fonts you spent a whole day perfecting, in the best-case scenario, might show up as default text. In the worst-case scenario, the custom colors and font sizes could be illegible on the other person’s monitor. Going overboard with fonts and colors could also come across as unprofessional. Let your personality shine through in what you say rather than in your email signature.
  • Inspirational quotes — Using these is another common way people try to add personality to their email signatures, but Whitmore advises against them “unless you’re in the inspirational quote business.” Especially unwanted are super long quotes and political or religious quotes — which some may take offense to — if you don’t work for such an organization.
  • Additional messages — “Please consider the environment before printing this email” is a nice sentiment but just takes up space. The default “Sent from my mobile phone” signature line that shows up in mobile email isn’t helpful either, Whitmore says. And making your signature cute by adding “please ignore any typos”?“There’s no excuse for typos. You should read it and reread it before sending an email,” she says.

Here are three examples of email signatures — the good, the bad and the unnecessary.

A good email signature

This email signature includes all the pertinent details on how to get in touch with the sender and represents the company in a professional way.

A bad email signature

This email signature includes only partial contact information, weird capitalization and unnecessary imagery. All of these elements makes it difficult for readers to glean the sender's essential contact information.

An unnecessary email signature

This email signature starts off with good information but goes off the rails with flashy fonts and inspirational quotes — including one attributed to the sender. Don’t try this at home!

Get our tips for effective email communication and discover if you are a serial email offender.

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