Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Email Signature - What's It For?

You may have seen those last few lines of an email, the ones that tell you all you need to know, and probably a lot more, about the sender. The email signature is one of those things that most of us just throw together without thinking what its purpose is and what we should be doing with it.

The main purpose of any signature is to communicate your contact details to the end recipient. Simple.

Any artistic styling or lyrical flourish imposed on the signature is secondary and shouldn't detract from the main goal, communication.

There is a multitude of data that could be attached to your email signature from the basic necessities such as your name and main contact number through items such as your online details (twitter, website etc) to totally superfluous items such as famous quotes, lines from favourite movies or other bits of wisdom that the sender feels the need to impart.

It is this multitude of options where most email signatures fall down, too much info, too busy in design or totally irrelevant data. What might come across as glitzy or humorous the first time can soon get irritating.

So the aim is to impart the necessary details in the fewest words or pictures, to keep it simple.

The necessary

There are only really a few details that are essential for an email signature. Name - Whether that's your full name of your first name is up to you and will depend on who it's aimed at. Your main route of contact. Most likely your daytime phone number but could be a return email address if most of your business is conducted in an online environment. The thing is about an email address is, is it necessary? They have your email address, you just sent them an email. Most people include it anyway for clarity but it's a personal choice.

The 'Should haves'

Secondary contact details such as a mobile phone number or another phone number that can be used when you're not contactable on your main number. Other routes of contact such as a fax number if you use one. The idea is to provide alternative to your main contact route not to provide every possible means for someone to contact you day or night regardless of where you are or what you're doing. Address, this is a tricky one but again only include it if someone is likely to need it so they can post something or drop in.

The superfluous

Other methods of contact or showcasing such as Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, websites. Unless these are directly useful to the recipient of the email then they're not really necessary. Clever or famous quotes or movie lines. These may help the recipient to form a view of your personality or humour but do you really want them to. Unless you're going to change it every time then it's going to become tiresome pretty quickly. A chapters worth of legalese at the end, why? Unless it's a legal requirement in the country of origin then leave it out.

The please don'ts

The only real no-no's really come down to the style and format of the signature. Keep is simple, don't use a multitude of font styles, sizes or different colours for each individual bit of information. The idea is to communicate your contact info, not give people a headache.

To re-iterate, the main purpose of an email signature is to impart the necessary information for the receiver to be able to contact you. Give them what they need and keep is simple.

Jon Tucker is a software developer specializing in business software for a variety of platforms.

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