This is how professionals should end an email
This is how professionals should end an email
By David Leibl
It’s been 20 years since email became ubiquitous in the workplace.
Even with collaborative tools like Basecamp and Slack, email remains the communications backbone in most professional environments.
So how come we still haven’t mastered it?
Email crimes abound in every office (Too many! Too lengthy! Unclear!)
But the part of an email I see clients and other professionals struggling with most is the seemingly most innocuous: the sign-off or closing.
Countless resources exist to help professionals land on the appropriate email sign-off ("Best regards?" "Sincerely?" "All the best?" "Cheers?")
Type "How to sign off an email" into Google and you'll get hundreds of millions of results. A more specific "How do you end a professional email?" yields a similar volume. It's clear the matter of the "right" email sign-off is far from settled.
Why do professionals continue to feel uncertain about the right words to type before we leave our name?
In my experience, the challenge exists because email is so fraught.
More than any other communications channel, email is fraught with the potential for misinterpretation and misunderstanding. Anyone who has worked in a professional setting (or more accurately, anyone who has ever used email, in any context) knows how common it is to misread or misjudge an email’s tone or intent.
When we receive an email we automatically try to decode and decipher the sender’s intent and tone, and we do this through the filter of our own beliefs, values and biases. The effect is that perceived eccentricities become magnified, which is why the closing can become so perilous.
A leader who signs off her email with “Cheers” may be perceived as approachable and accessible by her junior colleagues, but it’s equally possible the informality of “Cheers” comes off as overly collegial and unprofessional.
Similarly, the inspiring quote you’ve tucked into your email signature may be motivating to you, but your peers may find it silly, pretentious or new-agey. Even an innocuous “Warmest regards” can come off as insincere or mechanical if it adorns every email you send, or if the content of your message is requisitely less warm.
The even greater danger of a questionable closing, however, is that it detracts attention from the more important part of your email, which is the content (and more specifically, the thing you’re asking the recipient to do.)
In an era where the growing avalanche of email has made ignoring emails increasingly routine, focusing attention on the principal elements of a message is more important than ever.
So: What’s the best way for professionals to close an email?
In my view, the right close for most situations is the most benign of them all:
Why does “Best,” (or its cousin “Best regards,”) succeed?
Because it’s the most unobtrusive and forgettable closing there is.
And that’s the point.
Unlike other forms of writing, an effective email isn’t one with a strong or memorable close; it’s one that drives the recipient to the part of the message that contains actionable content, without inadvertently pulling the reader’s attention elsewhere.
As a secondary benefit, “Best” can also be used repeatedly without becoming grating, and there are few situations where closing with “Best” would be inappropriate.
You’ll also be in good company: if you scour for recent writing on the issue you’ll find an emerging consensus that “Best” works well for professionals and leaders in most situations.
Okay. But what does the data say?
Boomerang, a company that uses artificial intelligence to help users draft more effective emails, scanned 350,000 publicly available emails from 20 different online communities. The sample size is notably large, but an important caveat is that the sample isn’t solely reflective of emails sent within a professional setting.
Nonetheless, Boomerang’s scan found that response rates were markedly higher when the sender closed the email with some variation of “Thanks.”
So: if you’re sending an email to ask the recipient to do something, you may find increased compliance if you include “Thanks,” “Thank you” or “Thanks in advance” in your close.
But: the challenge for people in leadership, HR and communications roles is that we’re constantly asking people to do things, whether it’s to provide information or to perform a task, and we risk sounding insincere if we’re thanking the same individual multiple times in a week or even a day.
What about skipping the sign-off entirely?
You can forgo any sort of closing and simply end your email with your name, but you risk sounding cold and terse, and most leaders want to preserve some semblance of accessibility and warmth.
The exception, of course, is communication between equals where an established relationship exists and where interpretation of tone is less of an issue. Context always matters, and in those instances no sign-off is needed, in the same way that “Cheers” becomes appropriate if the communication is between two contemporaries where a relationship has been well established.
What’s the solution, then, for most professionals in most situations?
Stick with a simple “Best,” with an occasional “Thanks” when a response or action is particularly important.