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Your Signature is You Online


Jeanette S. Cates, Ph.D.
The Technology Tamer™

At some time in your life you practiced your signature. It may have been in third grade, right after you learned to write in cursive. It may have been in junior high when you were preparing for the autograph party. Or it may have been when you prepared to sign your first check. You recognized the importance of your signature - because it says a lot about you. It represents you to the world when all they can see is your name.

An electronic signature serves the same purpose. Your signature is the file that you append at the end of your email messages. It tells people about you and makes it easy to contact you in other ways. It's an electronic advertisement for you and your business. Yet many people fail to append this signature, leaving the recipients clueless on how to contact them.

Before going further, let's talk about what a signature file is not. It is not the same as a digital signature. A digital signature is a legal "stamp" equivalent to your written signature in authority and binding agreements. It is encoded into your message or document. A digital signature must be applied for and paid for through a specific authorizing agent. As opposed to a digital signature, the signature file we are discussing is a text file that you create and modify as needed. It is stored on your hard drive and carries no formal authority.

Let's look at what goes into a good signature file.

  • Include your full name. Often you want to sign your email more casually with just your first name or with no name at all. The signature file should have your full name so that others know how to address you. If appropriate, include your company name and job title as well.

  • Your email address. The recipient may want to print your message for later reference. If so, having your email address close to your name makes it easier to get back to you.

  • Your snail mail address. Occasionally a response needs to be greater than that which fits into an email message. So make it easy for them to send you documents and other materials. This also saves you having to type this information each time you request something be sent to you. This should include both the street address and your city, state, and zip.

  • Your telephone number. Although email proponents prefer using the asynchronous mode, sometimes a phone call is the easiest, fastest means to an end.

  • Your web site. I am often asked how to advertise your web site. Including it in your signature file is one of the most effective ways. Each time you send email, it's advertising your web site. When you contribute to online discussion groups, everyone reading that message hears about your web site. Your signature file is quietly advertising for you.

  • A slogan, tag line, or favorite quote. This is an optional inclusion in the signature file. Particularly if your company name does not convey the type of business you are in, include your tag line. Keep it short so that it doesn't add substantially to the message length.

What do you need to know "technically" about signature files?

  • Typically the signature file is a separate file stored on your hard drive. Many email programs let you create the file in the program. If your program does not provide this option, create your signature file as a text file and store it in the same directory as your email program.

  • Generally, there is a checkbox in your email program to say that you want to include your signature file in your email messages. If you can, set the preferences for the program to automatically include the signature file, unless you turn it off.

  • Because the signature file is a text file, you cannot use tabs and other formatting. It must be all text, with the spacebar used for creating the layout.

  • I prefer a "flat and wide" layout, rather than successive lines of information. This keeps the overall length of the message shorter and requires less scrolling. It does require more creativity on your part to be sure everything is visible and looks neat. Keep in mind that many email windows are narrow, so restrict the width to 80 characters. Keep your file to 6 lines or less.

  • Test your file. Send yourself a message with the signature file appended. Get feedback from your friends. Keep revising your file until you think it is "you". (Remember that practice you did with your written signature?)

Don't take a chance in someone not being able to contact you easily. Your image and your business depend on it. Remember, your signature is you.

Comments and suggestions (and your trial signature file) can be sent to the author:

Jeanette S. Cates, Ph.D.
Technology Implementation Expert (512) 219-5653; fax (512) 219-5654
10502 Hardrock Austin, TX 78750-2034
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About the Author

Dr. Jeanette S. Cates, Jeanette S. Cates, PhD. is Founder and CEO of TechTamers, an Austin-based technology implementation firm that works with companies who want to use their technology more profitably and with professionals who want to reduce their technology learning curve.

© 1999 Permission is granted to reprint this article in print or on your web site so long as the paragraph above is included and contact information is provided to

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