A musing on email signatures


I haven’t often thought about the work that’s done in email signatures. But I do generally have a look at what people have sitting there underneath their name. And I’ve recently been struck by five things:

  1. a lot of colleagues put a prepared corporate logo from their university or research centre in their signature. I have never used any of those ready-made shiny happy decals, partly because my email doesn’t seem to like them, but also partly because I like to think that my email is for me not just for my institution. And if it’s for my institution I gotta do the decal. I know that email for me is a delusion, but Im sticking to it.
  2. people who work part time or irregular hours often warn recipients that there might be delays in responding. They say that just because they are emailing at odd hours they don’t expect to be answered immediately. I’ve just started to do this because I really do want people to know I’m now working part time and I won’t be on deck seven days a week as I have been previously.
  3. some people have a really long list of publications at the bottom of their signature. And often some of the publications are from years and years ago.  I do wonder what we are meant to take from these long lists. The email acts as a kind of de facto cv and everyone who gets an email can see what the person has been up to, not just this year but years ago? Email recipients are expected to follow up the publications? People have been advised to do this as a form of publication dissemination? And does anyone worry that putting older papers will invite someone to speculate about quantity/productivity rather than the actual topic?  I generally have only one or two publications listed in my signature, things that have been written this year. And they’re books. But I do then engage in a bit of shameless advertising – I have a link to an online bookseller where my books are listed and can be bought! I’m a bit ashamed of this but my excuse is that I’m at least open about the fact that I am advertising. But maybe I should stop this.
  4. the other stuff. I confess I do have some website links to research project websites so people can see what I’m doing. That’s probably a false assumption and I don’t really have any evidence that these links do anything at all. But I’ve also seen favourite quotations at the end of emails, which I kind of like as they often make me think, and tell me more about the person I am corresponding with than any list of publications.
  5. and a question – is the actual name of the sender an image of a handwritten signature (generally not, think cut and paste here) or cursive text from the computer that tries to give the impression of something personal – or just ordinary old typeface font? What does this choice say that some of us would like our emails to be seen as letters?

The email signature is clearly some kind of representation of us as academics. But perhaps we don’t think often enough about the kind of work we are doing in that apparently minor text.

What do you put on the bottom of your email and why? What kind of academic identity work do our email signatures do? Has anyone out there done any research into email signatures as academic para-texts?

At the very least this little musing has made me rethink my own academic email signature. Replacing the online bookseller with my university homepage now…