With apologies to fans of the film Mr. Mom, it turns out many of us are doing it wrong. What’s it? Our email signoffs. A University of Pennsylvania study in 2003 found that only 5% of email writers closed with the signoff “best”. In those days, it was surpassed by closings like “thank you” and “regards.”
According to Rebecca Greenfield in an article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek, today no one says regards anymore and everyone says best.
In email’s early days (the 90s), Greenfield notes, “most users wanted to abandon the formalities of letter writing altogether so they omitted signoffs.” There was no salutation or closing – it was like a memo. But as emails started to function and look more like letters, people reverted to formal, familiar behavior. Now, according to Barbara Pachter, a business etiquette coach (didn’t know there was such a thing did you?), “there is a whole hierarchy of closings.”
She goes on to note that “Yours” sounds too Hallmark… “Warmest regards” is too effusive. “Thanks” is fine but often used when no gratitude is necessary… “Cheers” sound elitist… “Sincerely” is just fake.
At least “Best” is benign, at least according to Judith Kallos, an email etiquette consultant (which, if you didn’t know there was such a thing as a ‘business etiquette coach, you sure didn’t know there was such as thing as). Apparently, “Best” works, well, um… best, when you “apparently don’t know what else to use,” says Kallos. Others have been less kind, calling it charmless, pallid, impersonal or abrupt.
Best has even been mutated, (like a virus) into “All my best,” “all best,” “very best,” and so on.
Fact is, “Best wishes” goes back centuries but first appeared as a standalone in 1922. F. Scott Fitzgerald was an early fan. “Ever since the 18th century, the English speaking have been busy pruning away all ornament of expression,” wrote no less a mother of etiquette than Emily Post that year. “Leaving us nothing but an abrupt ‘Yours truly’.”
And so Greenfield suggests we have been bullied into using empty words. Turns out, according to her very unscientific survey of friends, that 75% use best or thanks.
So if not best, what?
Well, apparently… nothing. Don’t sign off at all. As email becomes more chat-like and functions like instant messaging (think texting), it’s become even more informal. Tacking a “best” onto the end of an email can read as archaic, like a mom-style voice mail, notes Greenfield. Signoffs interrupt the flow of conversation, and they’re “not reflective of the normal way we have conversation,” according to Liz Danzico, creative director at NPR.
Danzico ends all her emails, even professional ones, with the period on the last sentence. No signoff, no name… just a blank white screen.
All the best.