Email Sign-Off Etiquette

Because written communication lacks the subtle cues of face-to-face or even phone conversations, it's all too easy to misinterpret an email. Tone is notoriously slippery, and what seemed like a short and businesslike message to you might come across as terse or even hostile. In this minefield of opaque language, the way you sign off via email could be an unexploded mortar shell just waiting to go off.

The closing of a letter--formally known as a valediction--is your last chance to set the tone. Along with the salutation, it is one of a pair of bookends that frames the text of message, providing cues on how to interpret it. It would be nice if there was a one-size-fits-all option, but your email sign-off is often your literal signature, a trademark that becomes part of your brand. A sudden shift from "warmest regards" to "cheers" can prompt a Da Vinci Code level search for hidden meanings.

"Those final few words above your name are where relationships and hierarchies are established, and where what is written in the body of the message can be clarified or undermined," writes Lola Ogunnaike for The New York Times. There are dozens of options--Forbes offers up fifty-seven here--and your choice depends on your personality, the formality of the message, and how well you know the recipient. Here are four of the most common, but if you need even more inspiration, check out this list compiled by Simone Smith.

Regards (including Kind, Best, Warmest, etc): Real Simple is a big fan of this sign-off, calling it a "near perfect fallback." However, Chris Gayomali, writing for The Week, isn't as enthusiastic. "This is one of those divisive sign-offs," he says. "On one hand, its formality gives you a professional blank slate -- great for that new co-worker you can't quite get a read on yet. Others find it cold."

Cheers: Americans should probably avoid this typically British all-purpose expression. As Caity Weaver writes for The Hairpin," Do not use this unless your native dialect is a variety of British English. You will look like a tosser."

Best/Best Wishes: In this American Psycho-inspired piece from Esquire, the publication skewers most common sign-offs. Of Best Wishes, they say "You are nice, trustworthy, a bit wishy-washy maybe, perhaps lacking the required killer edge, probably never going to be top-drawer, might in fact be happier in a different organisation, sacked."

Thanks: Some people find this to be an innocuous all-purpose sign-off, while others find it to be off-putting when the message contains no hint of gratitude. "An email which ends with thanks that isn't thanking anyone for anything is just kind of weird," writes Ben Pobjie for The Guardian. "[I]t's the email sign-off equivalent of someone staring at you for slightly too long."

The other option, of course, is to nix the sign-off altogether. It comes down to whether you view an email as a letter or a conversation. If you reframe it as a conversation, then it makes no sense to include a formal valediction. "The handwritten letters people sent included information of great import and sometimes functioned as the only communication with family members and other loved ones for months," writes Matthew J.X. Malady for Slate. "In that case, it made sense to go to town, to get flowery with it."

Malady encourages everyone to ditch the clichéd sign-off and see what happens, but if you're feeling quite that brave, best is probably, well, best.

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Do you have a go-to sign-off? Share it in the comments!

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