In the good old days (or bad old days depending on your point of view) when Usenet was the internet, the rule of thumb that I was taught (or netiquette as it was called in those days) was that your .sig should not be longing the mail your typically sent. So, if you sometimes sent mini-missives of a couple of lines, your .sig should only have been a couple of lines. Here is one of mine from 1991 (yes, I really am that old)
| Robin Allenson | “If you find a fork in the road |
| | Take it. ” |
| robina at castle.uk.ac.ed | “I’ll do my .signature file tomorrow. |
| | No, really. ” |
A good few never made it past two lines.
Nowadays, signatures seem to have gotten a lot longer. One of the things I find particularly annoying is a couple of lines saying “Think of the environment before printing this email”. Oftentimes this is accompanied by a ‘P’ (for print, I guess) or a little picture of a tree or two.
Now say that 1% of the population actually does not print the mail as a result of this, it seems like we have saved a few trees. But no-one seems to consider the fact that as a result of this line or two, we make mails longer. Each mail then has a greater chance of needing two pages rather than one to be printed, or three pages rather than two. So, by adding those extra lines to your .sig you actually kill more trees.
By far the more effective approach is simply to try to minimise the length of mails that you send and to minimise the total number of lines needed to communicate a concept. i.e. it is not enough to send one or two line mails (à la Blackberry) but need a huge number of question-answer ping-pong matches to get to an understanding. This still means a high number of lines to get your point across (or to understand someone else’s point). Instead, you would like effective mails. Some useful hints:
- Write from the reader’s point of view
- Start with the headline and then continue with the detail. For the bold amongst you, just put the headline and leave it up to others to enquire for more detail
- Consider using headings
- Consider italicising certain points or marking actions in bold
The idea is to minimise the time that reader needs to invest in getting the message. Often you will find that you have simultaneously reduced the number of lines need to communicate.