Email tip: Lay off the massive email signatures


All too often I see email like this:

From: X

Is there a way to turn off Q?

Thanks,

X
Support Professional
Microsoft Product Support Services
Tel: +123 456 7890 Extension 1234

Email: X@microsoft.com

In case I am unavailable and you need urgent assistance, you can contact the following people:

My Backup: Y, Phone: +123 456 7890 Extension 1235 or Email: Y@microsoft.com

My Manager: Z, Phone: +123 456 7890 Extension 1236 or Email: Z@microsoft.com

Note: If you are a customer of Microsoft, Please refer to the terms and conditions which cover the provision of support and consulting services to you/your organization. If you are not a corresponding in the course of, or in connection with a Microsoft contract or program with its own terms and conditions, Please note that no liability is accepted by Microsoft for the contents of this email.

Not only is your email signature is longer than your message, it's also more colorful and makes greater use of boldface, so the reader's eye is going to be attracted to the signature and miss your question entirely. (This is actually a rather subdued version. I've seen much worse, with animated images in the signature.)

Don't let your message get lost in the medium. The email signature should not draw attention away from your message. What's more, it shouldn't convey information that the reader doesn't need to know. First of all, we already know your name and email address since it's in the message header. And since this message was sent internally, we can easily look up your job title, division, telephone number, and manager's name, and the huge disclaimer at the bottom is completely unnecessary since the message is internal and wasn't sent to any of your support customers.

The only information in the signature that we didn't already know (or couldn't already find out) is your backup, and I suspect this question could have gotten by without even that.

Sidebar

Some time ago, I had a hobby of collecting hideous email signatures and organized nearly 200 of them into an online "email signature museum". If things get slow, I could trot those out.

Comments (50)
  1. RichM says:

    I think for most people, you’d be right.  But in this case, given X’s job (a PSS representative) it seems like there is a very good business reason to have such a detailed signature.  X’s primary function is to provide service to customers.  So one would expect the signature to have all kinds of contact information for X and his backups.  I think it is also reasonable to include the email address.  If the customer were to forward or even print the message, many mail readers would simply render the From: field with the friendly name "X" without the email address portion, so having the email in the signature is a good thing.

    Now I agree that sending all of this when emailing internally is a bit much, but if I had a signature like this, I wouldn’t be changing it every time I happened to send an internal email, especially if doing so were a manual process.

  2. Stu says:

    Does outlook have the ability to have different signatures for different recipients, I’ve never spotted the functionality?

    If not, unless you expect the sender to remember to turn his sig on or off depending on who he’s sending to (or apply the sig manually), then many people will have to use catch-all signatures.

    The best they can do is to make it clear where their message ends and the sig begins, a <hr> is usually good for that, or a line of ‘-‘s if text-only mail is required.

    While you may not like it and I agree that it clutters up a mailing list, it’s really a limitation of common email software and not the fault of the sender.

  3. tsrblke says:

    @ Rich,

    But that’s what Auto Replies are for.  If you’re out of town hit turn an an "I’m Away" Message with theast stuff.  If you’re suddenly incapacitated your backups should be able to do it.

    I’ve been know to put my email address after my name when I send emails, but mostly for convience and when I know my emails are going to get passed around to the point that the headers may actually be lost.  (In Medical school applications it’s not unusual for a paper copy of your email to get printed off and put in a paper file.  Since I don’t want to assume how they reicieve and or print emails I just put my 1 line email address after my name so that I know it’s there when they’re looking at it.)

  4. mike says:

    One colleague has a sliding animated signature. Makes him look stupid IMO.

  5. If your sig’s going to be 16 lines long, I think there’s a rule that says there has to be an ASCII-art sword in there somewhere.

    ( http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=650826 )

  6. Lukas Beeler says:

    I’ve specified my signature to use a font a bit smaller than the original text – this makes it easier to distinguish. At 4 lines, the size is acceptable (i think).

    We don’t have any disclaimers here yet (in Switzerland), which i think is a very good thing.

    I usually manually delete my signature when sending internal mails, since most people already know me and what i’m doing (not working for a megacorp) – even if they don’t, they can lookup everything in the GAL.

  7. Mark says:

    At one point my CEO insisted that everyone had the same footer.  Problem was that that included a 120K JPEG as well as the massive amount of text disclaiming everything that was said in the email.

    Unfortunatley have still got the disclaimer, but thankfully the picture has gone.

  8. Dave says:

    we already know your … email address since it’s in the message header.

    Not if it’s 30 emails down a thread, and some one’s client drops email header info on reply / forward …

  9. If we could get Outlook to enforce RFC 3676 4.3, there could be a UI to "display signature for this message" or even "suppress signatures by default".

  10. Rich says:

    Is there a way to turn off Q?

    (Off topic, but) before answering this question, I’d want to know a lot more about why they want to turn Q off in the first place; in particular, what issue they’re trying to solve and why they think turning Q off would bring them closer to a solution…

  11. Joe Bruno says:

    Just return the email unanswered, politely asking for one without a massive signature. You’ll get a bad reputation but you’ll get results.

  12. Richard D. Winters says:

    I worked in PSS in the past, and silly email signatures are generally a requirement.  At the time I was there, you could forgo using word as the email editor in outlook and just send plain text emails, so at least my .sig wasnt all different colors; it was still long, but it was in plain text, the way God intended email to be.

  13. Andy says:

    I for one would love to see the museum of ugly signatures! I love making fun of ridiculous signatures. Hopefully there is a slow day sometime soon so you will post them.

  14. Mike Swaim says:

    Many moons ago, there was a USENET newsgroup, alt.fan.warlord, devoted just to hideous signatures collected in the wild. Swords did tend to be pretty popular.

  15. AdamT says:

    The problem is with compliance – various legal bits and bobs.  In the UK, it now seems to be almost mandatory to have a 10 line disclaimer automatically added by the SMTP gateway.  Of course, the actual letter of the law says no such thing:

    "Every company should list its company registration number, place of registration and registered office address on its website as a result of an update to the legislation…"

    http://www.out-law.com/page-7594

    Most companies find it easier to cover all bases with unenforceable disclaimers added to their registered addresses.  Half the time, the send doesn’t even realise their emails are being littered with the extra 10 or 20 lines until they start scrolling down on replies they receive.  And still, nobody trims them.

  16. Kevin says:

    The e-mail address in the signature is not necessarily redundant if you use Outlook, though, since it has a nasty habit of displaying the To and From lines in quoted text as listing the person’s name but not their e-mail address.  If you want to contact someone out of a message that has been replied to or forwarded, there isn’t any way to find out the actual e-mail address unless they included it in the text of the message.

  17. SJH says:

    An EU Direction (2003/58/EC) seems to require that European companies attach to electronic communications the same notices they they are required to attach to printed communications.

    I notice that Outlook 2007 sometimes detects when a message contains a forwarded (or originating) message quoted within the body of an e-mail and provides options to step through all such quoted messages.

    Maybe mail clients could (attempt to) detect signatures and collapse them into an expandable section?

  18. Jonty says:

    I have my MSN address in my email signature, and people regularly use it as a contact email – even though it’s both an overly-stylized handle and a Hotmail address. Thus the email address goes in too, much as I’d like to avoid it.

    And yes, legal disclaimers are a pain. My company’s one is longer than most of my messages.

  19. Yeah at my work they require you to put the street address of the office as your signature, regardless that it’ll be sent on internal mail too… crazy!

  20. Lars Viklund says:

    Quoting Stu: "The best they can do is to make it clear where their message ends and the sig begins, a <hr> is usually good for that, or a line of ‘-‘s if text-only mail is required."

    Most, if not all text mail readers interpret a line containing "– " (two dashes and a space) as the signature delimiter and will treat everything after it as the signature, usually coloring it differently. If I’m not wrong, it’s even mentioned in a RFC somewhere.

  21. Matt Green says:

    Unfortunately, the kinds of people who need to hear this aren’t the ones that read these sorts of sites, or even try to keep themselves up on technology.

    Although I have to admit I am a huge fan of Outlook’s "read all email in plain text" option. Finally, a way to ignore your ugly choice of fonts. :)

  22. T Man says:

    I’d love to see the museum of shame.  No doubt we all would get a great laugh out of them.

    The one thing you mention that I see all too often is the boldface text in the signature.  You are 100% correct in stating that it often takes attention away from the actual message, which doesn’t seem that is something you want to do.

    I NEVER use any e-mail signature.

  23. Rob Rose says:

    <i>If you want to contact someone out of a message that has been replied to or forwarded, there isn’t any way to find out the actual e-mail address unless they included it in the text of the message.</i>

    Not true. You can right click on the name display next to "From:" and select Outlook Properties.

  24. Anon says:

    Your e-mail addresses should always be included in your .signature.  

    Many times I have been forwarded a problem report from an outside client and have no way to get in touch with the reporter because the forwarded message headers only show the reporters display name and not their e-mail address.

  25. Mike Dimmick says:

    In theory I’m supposed to be looking at some software to attach disclaimers to outgoing email messages, because I wear a part-time mail administrator hat (there is no full-time mail administrator). In practice my schedule on whatever actual deliverable I’m working on is too tight to give me any time to look at this.

    At some point the management hierarchy will actually give me some time to look at it, but right now it is bottom of my to-do list.

  26. Kevin says:

    Not true. You can right click on the name display next to "From:" and select Outlook Properties.

    This works for the most recent From field, but as I stated does not work for addresses in the quoted text (people who were included in the past but are not on the current To/From/CC address list)

  27. Adam says:

    As much as I totally agree with you, and hope that there is a special portion of hell set aside for people with huge sigs[0], huge disclaimers are often not the fault of the sender. There have been a number of places that I’ve worked where large disclaimers were enforced by suits, either as written policy which you were not permitted to ignore, or applied on the mailserver which you are not capable of working around.

    And no amount of discussion with the mail admins or the people in charge of policy tends to change their CYA-and-look-really-stupid views. After all, looking stupid never got anyone fired. Not being able to point the finger somewhere else – *that’s* what gets people fired.

    "But emails to mailing lists aren’t addressed to any individuals. The email I need to send to support list X will specifically tell all the people I’m asking help from to ignore it, as they are not *named* recipients. It also gives them a number of other self-contradictory instructions, which are beside the point as none of it (including the request to ignore) is binding to any of the people who have received the email anyway. Every time I’ve sent email to this group before, the discussion about how I’m breaking the (reasonable) posting guidelines, and (reasonable) requests for me to change my email sig have overshadowed my actual request for help. Can’t I *please* do something about it?"

    "No, it’s policy."

    "AAAAaaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhhh!"

    That note in particular doesn’t read like anything any human being would actually write. It looks to me more like some by-product of bureaucracy.

  28. Greg Beech says:

    I totally agree about useless information, but it depends on the industry. Internally to Microsoft or other large companies you can find most of this in AD but working as a consultant I tend to get a lot of emails from a lot of disparate people, so it really helps to have:

    * Job title – so I know who you are

    * Phone number – so I can call you

    * Address – so I can find you to visit

    Yes, including the email address is superfluous as is the backup and manager (this is reserved for OOF autoresponse). And sometimes additional bits of information such as people’s blog address are interesting too.

    Of course the trick is to keep it subtle. All of the details in my signature are in a very light grey colour so they don’t distract from the content.

  29. no signature says:

    If things get slow…

    A post complaining about someone’s long but informative e-mail signature? I think things are officially slow…

  30. Ben Cooke says:

    Anon writes,

    >

    Your e-mail addresses should always be included in your .signature.  

    >

    Many times I have been forwarded a problem report from an outside client and have no way to get in touch with the reporter because the forwarded message headers only show the reporters display name and not their e-mail address.

    >

    Including such information in your signature is pointless, because any replies should have the signature trimmed anyway.

    My email client does this for me automatically if the signature is properly delimited. If it is not, I do it manually.

  31. arun.philip says:

    One tip: In Outlook, you can setup multiple signatures. Then, in your email, right click the default sig that appears, and choose another sig.

    Not as easy as a non-existent feature that allows you to specify signatures for specific email addresses/domains, though.

  32. Tom says:

    In Germany every business is required by law to provied a massive email signature containing the business’ headquarters, CEO, board of management, …

  33. incidentally I’d love to see this email signature museum :)

  34. Martin Cowen says:

    The feature that they were trying to turn off, Q, it wasn’t the email signature by any chance?

  35. SvenGroot says:

    Raymond Chen talks about using very long e-mail signatures, and on the most part I agree with him. However, he makes one complaint that I must object against. In particular, he says "we already know your…"

  36. Anon says:

    I agree with this comment.

    *****************************************

    Anonymous J Coward

    anon.j.coward@anon.com

    Anon Industries Inc(tm)

    A Wholly owned subsidiary of AnonCorp(tm)

    "Creating value every hour of the day"

    Contents are without prejudice in the US and elsewhere where allowed to be without prejudice by US or local law. Nothing in this email shall be taken to constitute a contract between you and Anon Industies Inc, AnonCorp or any of it’s wholly owned or partially owneded subsidiaries. AnonCorp and Anon Industries are trademarks. Contents of email are (c) AnonCorp and/or it’s subsidiaries and should be considered proprietary to them. If you feel you received this email in error, please contact legal@anon.com and request a Cease and Desist notice and delete the email. If you are sued by AnonCorp, please remember that distruction of evidence is a federal crime. Scanned for Viruses by ACME Virus scanner. If you are infected by a viruses reading this email you agree not to sue ACME, AnonCorp or Anon Industries. Following the advice in this email my cause death, insanity or financial loss and AnonCorp offer no warranty as to its correctness. Anon Corp may make recordings of calls and store emails and pass these to third parties. Nothing in this email constitutes legal or other advice.

    ******************************************

  37. @ Stu

    You could possibly use an adaptation of the random email signature code I found online and adapted for this. Just add a lookup into the address book using redemption to decide what ‘default’ to use or even what random group to base it from (if your into such randomness).

    Take a look at my site and see if it meets your needs, if so drop a comment about your adaptation.

    http://www.patentlystupid.com/outlook

  38. Stefan Kanthak says:

    @Greg Beech, Lukas Beeler:

    So you frankly admit to be one of those <censored;-> who really send HTML or even worse formats? Do you expect your recipients to render that "crap"? Even Mr. Chen’s employer recommends to read mail in plain text only. And plain text fortunately doesn’t know about color or font (size).

    @Stu:

    The netiquette guidelines ask to send plain text, not HTML, and define the signature separator to be "n– n".

    @Rob Rose:

    Not everybody uses OutOfLuck (or even a mouse when reading mail or news)! And OutOfLuck doesn’t have the psychic powers to guess the email address to a display name when this information is not forwarded too. Yes, there a MTAs besides Exchange. Really!

  39. Stephen Jones says:

    Waht I love is the  "this email is the property of xxxcorp. If you received it in error destroy it immediately".

    Sorry matey, but the law on this is clear. Once I’ve received the email, even in error, it’s mine, and I can do anything I want with it including forwarding copies to the universe mailing list, or to the FBI who can prosecute you using any evidence that is in the email, should you have been a naughty boy.

  40. Kevin says:

    Waht I love is the  "this email is the property of xxxcorp. If you received it in error destroy it immediately".

    Or even better, I’ve seen several corporate disclaimers that told me to return the message received in error via the US Postal Service (presumably after printing it out)!

  41. Petréa Mitchell says:

    That’s all very well and good, but my company just enacted guidelines that *require* everyone to list all their phone numbers, their division and department, etc. At least the new policy discourages the use of vCards and animations, and the required colors are not bad.

  42. Hi, Another great post by Raymond . Although I have to admit I have been guilty of this on many occasions.

  43. Aaron Houndsbreath says:

    @Stefan Kanthak

    So you frankly admit to be one of those <censored;-> who really send HTML or even worse formats? Do you expect your recipients to render that "crap"?

    Well 99% of them use Outlook just like me. If the other 1% choose to use something else, it’s their problem if it doesn’t support de facto industry standards.

  44. jm says:

    there’s a guy here at my work, who has a photograph of himself in his signature, as well as something very similar to Raymonds example.

    the guy has braided hair, and has, what i can only described as pig tails, deliberately hanging forward over each shoulder on to his chest so they can be seen

  45. oliver says:

    [All of the details in my signature are in a very light grey colour so they don’t distract from the content.]

    [I’ve specified my signature to use a font a bit smaller than the original text – this makes it easier to distinguish.]

    Ouch – using HTML signatures sounds just wrong to me :-)

    If you separate your plain-text signature from the mail text with

    most mail readers seem to recognize the sig correctly and will already display it in grey (cool, huh?).

    I think this separator (two dashes, a space, a line break) is also written down in some standard.

    Using HTML for the sig or separator forces the recipient into your idea of "style" – maybe you like to have your sig in light grey, but maybe I like to have sigs in received mail just in smaller font?

    (Of course, this leads to the whole thing about attached vcards which contain the sig info in a structured way, instead of one large text mass including formatting commands. Only somehow the vcard idea seems not to have spread far enough – at least, most mail readers display vcards not as subtle as would be nice, and many people seem to despise attached vcards. Of course, those people despise HTML sigs even more than vcards and only like short plain-text sigs :)

  46. John says:

    I just say my first name, or maybe add my last name, and then *maybe* add my phone number. people ask if i have a business card. i don’t. i’m sorta like the a-team.

  47. Colin says:

    …clearly, Microsoft needs to clip these people’s wings when they’re still juveniles.  I recommend the Internz alias during summer intake — the PM interns and IT interns usually have ridiculous sigs.

  48. Chris J says:

    This site has a selection of hideous examples:

    http://www.goldmark.org/jeff/stupid-disclaimers/

Comments are closed.

Skip to main content