Copywriter, Digital Asset Manager, Business Analyst
One of the issues we’re all encountering at the moment is what’s been described as ‘hyper novelty’. Not only has our society changed spectacularly, but the rate of that change is equally spectacular. The life of a blue-collar worker probably didn’t change that much for a long time. For example, for countless years quern stones were used for grinding. All that changed over that time was whether it was being powered by human strength, animals or water wheels.
Compare that to the present day. We’re iterating upon our technology so fast that we can barely keep up. Social mechanisms where we took feedback from people made sense when we were living in villages. But on social platforms, people we’ve never and will never meet have the opportunity to praise, criticize or dog-pile us.
So the biggest challenge isn’t developing the skills to use the technology. It’s forming and understanding social rules around them. Language we’d use in person can fall apart in the black and white of text because body language is removed. That change from verbal to text could cause someone to react very differently to you.
Kate Fox, a social anthropologist described the level of the impact:
55% of a person’s impression of you is based on your appearance, so what you’re wearing, all sorts of things based about your appearance and your body language, so the gestures, facial expressions. So when you’re talking on a telephone you’ve eliminated 55 (percent). This is space age technology for Stone Age brains. –Kate Fox Inventions That Changed the World
So we’re losing 55% of communication by not doing it in person. Also, social rules haven’t caught up to the level of change. The fact that you’re searching for information on this proves that. If it was well understood, you might not need to. You’d already know because the appropriate social behavior would have become ingrained over time.
So one of the biggest topics for young Millennials and Generation Z is how to end an email. Many are scrambling to find email sign offs that don’t make anyone look foolish or inappropriate?
The first thing to understand is the context. If you were writing an email to your mother, you wouldn’t close it, ‘yours sincerely’, even if you didn’t have a great relationship. Equally, if you were sending your CV to a recruiter, you wouldn’t close your email, ‘love and best wishes’. So understand whether it’s a personal situation or a professional context first.
If it’s a personal context, then your options are wider, of course. If you have a history of banter with each other, as friends often do, then you can be pretty relaxed about it, but remember the gap between spoken and written communication. Said in person, it may be taken the right way. In the black and white of text, it may look rude or inappropriate.
If it’s a professional context, then you’re going to be more constrained. Since we tend to email more at work than in our private lives, we’re effectively representing our employer on some level. Get it wrong and the company can look bad. Get it really wrong, and maybe they stop becoming our employer right quick!
How to End an Email (12 Ways)
If in doubt, it’s best to lean towards the formal ways to end an email. It’s easier to correct that than the alternative! Here are some options along with clear interpretation as to whether they’re formal or informal, and perhaps a caveat or two.
You might think that this one is a bit empty or hollow, but that’s ok.
Some creative writing advice encourages writers to avoid using the word ‘said’ to identify which character is speaking. For example, ‘I think it’s a boring way to close an email because it’s overly used, so people should find an alternative,’ said Christa. However, endlessly using words instead of ‘said’ can make it look like you’re reaching. This can draw too much attention to a single word.
In an email, the most important bit is the content of the email, so closing with ‘regards’ is a safe way of finishing an email that won’t draw undue attention.
If you’re writing letters, such as a cover letter, to someone you’ve never met before, then this is a great option. It’s a contraction of ‘yours sincerely’ which is more often used by the British. In the US, it’s better to stick with ‘sincerely’.
Tone: very formal.
This is one of the nicest ways to end an email, and by far the most personable of the phrases we’ve looked at so far. The words can be used very casually, but think about the deeper meaning: you’re wishing the best in life for someone. So that tells us the tone.
This is friendly, but perhaps not so friendly that you’d use it with a close family member or loved one. You might just be able to get away with using it with an acquaintance that you’d known for some time.
Which email address are you sending this from and to? If this is between personal email addresses (both sides), then it might be appropriate for an acquaintance. If, however, it’s from or to a professional email address, then something more formal is likely to be more appropriate.
“Cheers” is a relaxed and friendly closing that can feel nice to see. The team at Boomerang concluded that this was the closing most likely to secure a response.
However, there’s potentially some dissonance in using this closing. Though it’s more likely to secure a response that might lead you to use it in formal contexts, its informality suggests that you might want to reconsider.
Cheers is best known as British slang for ‘thanks’ or ‘goodbye’ which tends towards the informal. However, it’s not commonly used British slang these days. So if you say this to someone British, it may jar as its use can look artificial or even patronizing. This is more true when used in person or over the telephone where they can hear your accent. Remember Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock: ‘Hello fellow kids’? It has that vibe.
This is a contraction of ‘best wishes’, and it’s remarkable what the removal of a single word can do. Whereas ‘best wishes’ is informal, ‘Best’ is interchangeable with ‘regards’. It’s another safe and dependable formal closing without being super formal.
Thanks in advance
This is one of the subtler email sign offs. Use of the word ‘thanks’ alone suggests that this is informal. However, would you ever use this in a personal email? How many personal emails have you received with this closing?
If you think about how you would use this, it’d be because you’re asking someone to do something and then thanking them in advance for doing it. This is, therefore, another example of a closing where the words are dissonant with the meaning.
Tone: formal but potentially toxic.
You may have noticed that out of email sign offs that we’ve discussed thus far, this one is categorized as “formal, but potentially toxic”. Here’s why.
Some might see it as manipulative because you’re effectively telling someone to do something for you and thanking them for it. So you might see it used in a situation where two people are working together and one of them wants something done, but doesn’t have the hierarchical authority over the other person to instruct that it be done. Therefore, it may cause petty tension between coworkers.
This is very different to the previous one, so long as you aren’t using it as a derivative of the one above. If you’re writing asking someone to do something for you when you aren’t their line manager, then this may be taken as ‘thanks in advance’. In most other contexts, though, it’s a friendly closing that you might use with a friend.
Tone if a contraction: formal but potentially toxic.
Tone if not a contraction: very informal.
Looking forward to hearing from you
Opinions can be divided on this one in that it can be seen as professional. However, it can also be seen as containing instruction: ‘hurry up!’
Tone: formal to manipulative/toxic.
If ‘sincerely’ or ‘yours sincerely’ isn’t formal enough for you, there’s always this option. Business Insider rated it so formal that it’d only be used by clergy and government officials!
Tone: most formal.
<Your name only>
At first look, just signing off with you name might look professional, but so does a cleanroom, and this has the same level of sterility.
Tone: very formal, too cold.
If you’re using this in a professional email, it’s safe to assume that you haven’t read any of the above. Don’t!
Tone: most informal.
No closing at all
Not closing an email is informal, to say the least. Think a bit about what not closing an email implies. It suggests that you and the person you’re writing to are so familiar that you don’t even really need to say goodbye. You know you’ll speak soon.
Tone: most informal.
So we’ve shown different ways to end an email. Now what comes after the closing? Well, yes, your name, but how should it be presented? Well, again, it depends on the context. If you imagine that you’re writing an email to your mother, you wouldn’t close it:
However, this kind of structure is perfectly acceptable for professional emails. You can, of course, set-up signatures for emails in your settings. That takes care of your email sign offs without you having to do think about it.
Whether you want to use the signature automatically all the time is another matter. If you’ve been at your employer for a while, then it might only be new starters who don’t know who you are. That’s more likely to be true if it’s a small organization, though. If you work at a multinational corporation, having a signature could be beneficial.
You could decide that you won’t use a signature for internal emails, but will for external emails where people are less likely to remember your name and job title.
If in doubt, you could just leave the signature on all the time. It might look a little formal in some cases, but it means that communicating who you are and your role will never be forgotten.
If you use a signature, remember to change it if you get promoted! You don’t need people emailing you about responsibilities that aren’t yours anymore.
Some companies are more informal than others, so deciding how to end an email can be dependent on your work environment. For example, startups might be a little less formal. Cultural heritage or certain creative bodies or charities might be. Think about how people actually communicate in your company. Look at the different email sign offs that people in your company use.
This could mean that you could have an atypically informal sign-off and signature for internal communication, even though it’s a formal context. Then, you’d still want a formal closing/signature for external communications, for people not part of that informal culture.
Yes, there are lots of ways to end an email, and these are just a selection. Just remember that there are just two classifications that matter: formal or informal. You can have degrees of both, but they’re degrees.
Before you email, work through the following:
- Is this person a work colleague or family/friend?
- Is the email going to and from a professional or a personal address?
- What am I communicating in the email’s text?
- Is this email internal or external?
- What is the culture of my employer?
That quick checklist should help you decide how to end an email, but as mentioned, it’ll help most of all if you know before you even start writing the email. Once you understand this, you’ll know how to open the email and the appropriate tone for the text too. Three birds, one stone.
And yes, that last heading was most informal! Good job if you caught that 😉.