Is Your Email Sign-Off Annoying? You Might Just Want To Say 'Thanks'

A new etiquette poll reveals simpler is better.

18/03/2016 4:29 AM AEDT | Updated 18/03/2016 4:29 AM AEDT
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In the world of social niceties, email sign-offs are the Wild West. Anything goes; there are no established standards. One man’s well-meaning “Thanks!” is another man’s “well, that was passive-aggressive.” And just when you think you know somebody, he could sling a “Cheers” your way, swiftly undoing years worth of kinship.

The problem may be the dearth of options. When closing an email, you could go the old-fashioned letter-writing route, tacking on something like “Sincerely,” “Warmly,” “Regards,” or “Yours.” But in a world where written exchanges are zipped back and forth, does sending “warm regards” on a chain every 25 minutes sound phony? Does “Sincerely” sound insincere?

Another option is to forgo the well-wishes, signing just your name, your initial, or including no signature at all. But does this come across as curt, or glib?

In a world where written exchanges are zipped back and forth, does sending “warm regards” on a chain every twenty-five minutes sound phony? Does “Sincerely” sound insincere?

A quick Google search for email signature etiquette yields unsurprisingly mixed results. A Business Insider piece rips into nearly every option, calling “Thanks” “not really thankful,” and “Looking forward to hearing from you” a “minefield of power dynamics.” Yikes. Even the neutral “Best” was called “vulgar,” “lazy” and a “cop-out” by the Telegraph. Bloomberg agreed, in an article headlined “You’re Ending Your E-mails Wrong: Why ‘best’ is actually the worst." Et tu?

This rampant disagreement likely arises from the ambiguous purpose of email. When is it best to write something out rather than call, or text? In business, it makes sense, but do you email your friends to set up a dinner date, or is that group text terrain? Is it impolite to email your grandmother to wish her happy birthday, when a call would’ve been more personal?

Is email meant for formal exchanges, informal discussions, or both? And if both, should you tweak your sign-off accordingly? Because the experts can’t seem to agree, HuffPost and YouGov polled readers about the formality level of emailing. We asked which sign-offs are commonly used, and which are downright annoying. 

Of 1,000 adults polled, just 17 percent said emails are formal, while 33 percent said they were informal and 49 percent said it depends. Among the most commonly reported sign-offs were “Thanks” (used by 62 percent of respondents, who were allowed to report more than one answer), just a name or initials (46 percent), “Sincerely” (44 percent), “Love” (28 percent), “Regards” (22 percent) and no signature at all (21 percent).

Forty-one percent of respondents didn’t find any email sign-offs annoying, illustrating that it might be best to just not worry so much about your verbiage. Emails are apparently considered informal, after all. However, 24 percent of respondents find “xoxo” annoying, while 21 percent dislike “Peace,” and 15 percent dislike e-mails containing no signature at all. “Cheers,” the sign-off much-aggrieved by etiquette columnists, was considered annoying by 13 percent of respondents, and “Thanks,” the least-annoying sign-off, was grating to only 3 percent.

So, if you’re aiming to please, “Thanks” might be the way to go -- even if you don’t have a particular task to thank your correspondent for. When asked directly whether “Thanks” denoted genuine gratefulness or passive aggressiveness, or whether it depended on the rest of the e-mail, only 2 percent said it was passive aggressive. Sixty-five percent said it depended on the rest of the email and 29 percent said it’s genuinely grateful no matter what. Perplexing findings, to be sure -- saying thanks was once a specific gesture, but it’s morphing into a nebulous nicety.

But, this is email we’re talking about -- the weird world of correspondence that’s sandwiched between thoughtful letter-writing and haphazard Tinder-swiping. It’s used to share links, to organize events, to chat, to delegate tasks. In fact, of all the modes of communication at our disposal, it may be the most action-oriented, which would explain why a simple “Thanks” often does the trick.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted March 10-11 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls.You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be foundhere. More details on the polls' methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some, but not all, potential survey errors. YouGov's reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample, rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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