Tip: (moving toward email sanity) Getting control of your email signatures

Bottom Line:  In my personal crusade to make the world a safer place for thoughtful email practices, long email signatures repeated over and over again in a thread of email on the same topic get in the way of goodness. Long, complex, multi-line, aphorism laden email signatures make it harder for people to succinctly edit your emails to pass on to others so they can quickly comprehend issues and the action you need them to take. Be considerate to those who do not pass on puzzles to their readers and keep your email signature a) short and b) simplified when you are replying multiple times on the same topic.  This post will teach you how to build multiple email signatures in Outlook, make some suggestions for typical users, and show you how to quickly select the right signature for the right context.


The problem: If you have a ten to twelve line email signature (yes, many that I see are this long when you include disclaimers, privacy warnings, and witty/profound aphorisms) for every reply and forward, you make the job of editing an email string to a succinct, easy to understand message for the reader much harder. I try hard to apply the Lean principles of not accepting or passing on defects when I send email. I often get added to distribution on a topic after others have sent many replies back and forth, but the person who added me frequently makes NO effort to clean up the string to make it easy for me to figure out quickly what is going on and what action is necessary. Sometimes, I just send the email back asking what action the person wants. Most of the time, I am not the best person to take the action desired so I take a few minutes to edit the email strings to just those emails that add value to the thread, deleting:


  • extraneous forwards/replies or those with no useful text,
  • polite salutations,
  • extra addressing (unless it is important to the person I am adding to the conversation to know who has been on distribution),
  • off topic text (especially when the topic has changed from where it started initially), and
  • incredibly long email signatures (including robotic privacy disclaimers)

In my personal crusade to make the world a safer place for thoughtful email practices, long email signatures repeated over and over again get in the way of goodness for the few of us that are working on it.


If you receive previously "touched" email like this from me, you are going to get something easy to use and comprehensible no matter what garbage got stuck in my inbox unless I am doing this on a Blackberry where I cannot fix problem emails so easily.


Why this is important: Unnecessary lines of email signature text get in the way when you are editing an email string for clarity. When you think of the person you may be adding to the conversation and consider what you are sending from her point of view, you should want her to be able to quickly scan the information and "get it" without a lot of de-encryption effort. Sadly, I have noticed that almost no one else does this.  That means they are often not communicating, they are sending puzzles.


What you can do about it: Create a few email signatures so you can choose the most appropriate one for particular contexts. For example, I just use my initials for as the default signature for all replies, only changing in the rare instance when I am adding someone new to distribution who might need my contact information.


If you use Outlook for email, you create alternative email signatures by selecting "Tools," Options, Mail format tab. select the Tools menu, options, Mail Format tab, Signatures area (near the bottom). Create something sort like "Ralph" or your just your initials for the simplest signature. My default signature for replies is "RTS," but I also have signatures for "Very Respectfully, Ralph," "Very Respectfully, [all my contact information]," and my just my detailed contact information. Make sure to name the signatures so you can recognize them by their names. After you click "ok," you can select different default signatures for new emails from that used for fwds and replies.


Quick tip: use as few lines as possible when you are including your contact information and make sure to display a text version of your email address for those not on NMCI. For example:


Instead of:


Rank Name

USS Ship Name (SSN-xxx)

Project Title

Work number xxx-yyy-zzzz

Cell number xxx-yyy-zzzz

Fax number


Use something like this:


Rank Name (email address)

USS Ship Name (SSN-xxx), Project Title

xxx-yyy-zzzz (w), xxx-yyy-zzzz (c), xxx-yyy-zzzz (f)


To access these new email signature options, there are two paths to take depending on whether you have the option of using Word as your email message editor (you can check this while in the Inbox of Outlook by selecting "Tools," Options, Mail format tab and seeing which boxes are checked (if they are even visible) in the "mail format" section near to top of the box, no boxes or no checks in the boxes mean that Outlook is your message editor).


If Word is your email message editor, you can choose a different signature than the default by right clicking on your signature in the compose window and choosing any of the signatures you have created from the pop up menu.


When Outlook is your email message editor, all you have to do is use the insert menu to insert an email signature. Even if you do not "select all" of your default signature so that it gets replaced when you insert a different signature from the default, all you have to do is select and delete the old one after you insert the one you want (the point of insertion is wherever you have the cursor when you go to the "insert menu" so you are not required to know at the time of composition which signature you want to use.


I keep these instructions in a "draft email" on Outlook to I an quickly use them to educate people who have excessively long email signatures since I have found that many people have no idea you can use Outlook this way.

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