This morning I received an email from an academic who signed his message ‘Love and solidarity.’ This unconventional way of signing off was certainly was a refreshing change from the more usual and more staid ‘best wishes’ which frequently feature at the end of emails I receive. Last week, my colleague received an email which was signed off ‘Best in innovating.’ It seems that RSA correspondents are not shy of showing individuality in their email valedictions. Is this a good thing, or is it a sign of the decay of formal written communication?
I was taught the conventions of letter writing when I was at school. ‘Yours faithfully,’ if you didn’t know the person you were writing to; ‘yours sincerely’ if you did. The letter as a standard form of communication is arguably on the verge of extinction – what’s the point of producing and posting a letter when an email can be sent and delivered in an instant? Some of the conventions of letter writing have found their way into standard email forms. A quick scan of my inbox reveals plenty of messages which start ‘Dear Emma,’ but also quite a few which use ‘Hi,’ ‘Hey,’ or leap straight to just ‘Emma’. Despite this, there is no standard set of conventions for email communication, and broadly it seems that anything goes.
There’s no shortage of ‘netiquette’ advice online, suggesting obvious things like keeping it simple, being polite and avoiding passing on spam. Netmanners provides examples of ways people frequently sign off emails, but in the end suggests that it’s down to you to choose what’s most appropriate. Researchers from the Ministry of Social Development in Wellington have conducted discourse analysis of greetings and closings in email communication, and published their results in the Journal of Computer Mediated Communication. The range of greetings and closings they reported was interesting enough, but none in their sample used either ‘love and solidarity’ or ‘best in innovating’. They do say that it is important that we give due regard to the linguistic choices people make in emails, not only because it is good to understand the cultural practice, but also because of the affective role these communications play. On that point, I rather enjoyed getting some love and solidarity with my email this morning, so I’m all in favour of the liberation from convention that email brings.