The politics of parting words

Closing remarks on an email can impact the response rate from the recipient
by Bethan Rees

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"When letters were the only form of written correspondence, signing off was obvious," says Helene Schumacher in a BBC Worklife article, adapted from an episode of BBC Radio 4's Word of Mouth show. There were etiquette rules for such communications, for example, if addressing a sir or a madam, you wrote ‘yours faithfully’, if addressing a specific person, you wrote ‘yours sincerely’, and when writing to a close friend or family you wrote ‘love from’, she says.

But email has disrupted these unambiguous ‘rules’. Presenter of Word of Mouth Michael Rosen is quoted in the article, saying that "emails have become the medium of business, leisure, family, love and everything", and our sign-offs show how we want to come across. "Thoughtful, grateful, or just very, very busy?"

An Indeed article says that email closings are important as it’s the "last thing your audience reads after finishing your message and can be the motivating factor in how quickly they respond ­– or whether they respond at all". The article suggests thinking of your email sign-off as the closing of a conversation. "By using friendly, polite and professional language with a clear call to action, you have a better chance of earning a positive response."

While everyone will have an opinion about the best sign-off, here are a few things to consider.

Choosing your sign-off

Are you considering not including a sign-off? Alison Doyle in an article for The Balance Careers advises to always include one as it's "extremely unprofessional" not to, "even if you have an email signature".

An article by Stephanie Vozza for Fast Company references a study by employee experience platform Perkbox Insights, which surveyed 1,928 employed adults to find out what closing remarks annoy them the most. According to the study, the best way to sign-off is with ‘kind regards’, followed in popularity by ‘thanks’ or ‘regards’, with the worst sign-offs being ‘love’, ‘warmly’, ‘cheers’ and ‘best’. It’s also important to note that 44% of the respondents said no sign-off is the worst.

In The Balance Careers article, Doyle lists numerous examples of common professional email sign-offs, such as ‘all the best’, ‘regards’, ‘best wishes’ and ‘yours sincerely’.

Giving thanks

In an article for recruitment company Ladders, Laura Berlinsky-Schine says sign-offs that include a variation of ‘thank you’ have a higher response rate, according to a study by email software company Boomerang.

Writing ‘thanks’ is simple and effective, says Berlinsky-Schine. "You’re simply letting the recipient know that you’re grateful to them … Just be careful not to deploy this sometimes-overused closing when there’s nothing for which you’re actually thanking the recipient."

‘Thanks for your consideration’ works in specific circumstances, such as job applications, when you've asked the recipient to do something such as "reflect on your proposal", Berlinsky-Schine says. It’s also a way of showing appreciation for reading the email.

‘Thanks for your attention’ demands a reply and is a direct call to action. "This is a good approach for communicating with employees but possibly a little too managerial and curt for talking to your own manager or peer," she says.

‘Thank you for your help’ implies that someone is going to do something for you, or they already have. "However, you should only use it if you’re absolutely sure the favour will occur. Otherwise … it might come across as impolite," says Berlinksy-Schine.

Using ‘cheers’ might feel like second nature if you're from the UK, but as Schumacher writes in the BBC Worklife article, "it can be utterly perplexing for other nationalities" as it can also be used when "clinking glasses at the pub".

Other sign-offs

In an article for Entrepreneur, Kristin Edelhauser quotes Suzanne Bates, president and CEO of management consultancy Bates Communications, and Cherie Kerr, founder of business development firm ExecuProv, for their take on email sign-offs. Using ‘sincerely’ is "tried and true for a formal business close", Bates says, but Kerr says it's "a bit too formal for email". Whereas ‘kind regards’, they both agree is a good sign-off. "This is a great all-purpose business salutation", says Bates.

They both agree that using ‘best’ is an acceptable colloquial sign-off for someone you know, and that no closing remark is not a good solution. Bates says "it could come across as abrupt without one … [and] may also subtly say 'I'm in a hurry'", while Kerr says, "Always use a salutation, but don't be redundant. Change it up. That makes people think you care by taking the time to ‘converse’ with them by email.”

There is no strict guide on how to sign-off an email, but a general rule to take away from this is that ‘thanks’ in its many forms is fine to use, as long as you are actually thanking the recipient for something, and ‘kind regards’ is always appropriate for a business sign-off. The golden rule to remember is to always include one.

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Published: 20 Aug 2021
  • Training, Competence and Culture
  • Soft Skills
  • career development
  • emails
  • Career advice

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