What If We Signed Our Email in Ink?

Last week I met with my friend Ira, who is a senior vice president of human resources. We talked about business writing and about the errors that fill email.

Here’s one of Ira’s thoughts:

We put our name on what we are proud of. Is that why people are comfortable making mistakes in email–because they don’t actually sign their names to it?

I believe he’s right. I believe that if we had to print each email message on letterhead, grab an ink pen, and then add our signature, we would be much more careful. We would do more than a quick grammar- and spell-check. We would probably confirm the spelling of the other person’s name, capitalize our own name at the end of the message, cut the first two unrelated sentences, make sure the address was correct, and proofread carefully.

You may be wondering "Why would we need to do that? Email is much more informal."

But plenty of email is not informal. I receive contracts, requests for proposals, recommendations, requests, and other formal communications through email. If you work in a large company, your situation is probably the same.

Even "informal" email often has a formal context. It may be a tiny communication in a huge project, bid, program, procedure, grievance, schedule, proposal, lawsuit, official record, etc. Because of the context, even a quick two-sentence message can be more formal than it seems.

And even if it is informal, should informal be incorrect? Incoherent? I don’t think so. What’s your view?

Let’s pretend that we are putting our signature on every email. Let’s imagine that each message matters. Let’s act as if each email we send reflects something about who we are . . . because it does, doesn’t it?

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