Signatures -- The Long and Short of It

What is the accepted standard for signatures? Who sets these standards? The signatures in question are those blurbs that we include after the body of our main message content in our emails for the purpose of identification and contacts.

I'm really not referring to signatures in the respect that Usenet Newsgroups see them. It is pretty much agreed by established netiquette that Usenet signatures should be limited to five lines or less. They should, or may, contain:

  • Your name: Doug Davis

  • Your email: [email protected]

  • Your company: Northern Research

  • What you do: Publisher

  • Your URL:

    You can shave a line or two from the above by combining your name and email address plus your company with what you do:

    Doug Davis [email protected]

    Northern Research, Publisher

    Getting away from Usenet and, some lists, into the real nitty-gritty of internet marketing, signatures have become a way of sticking that extra ad in there. For better or worse we seem to be stuck with this practice, so don't expect it to go away soon.

    How wide should your signature be?

    Text terminals usually had and have a width of 80 characters; this means they can display just as many characters in one row. This is the practical reason why the ultimate text width of email messages and sigs should be no more than 80 characters.

    But this doesn't work very well in practice. We reply, we forward, we quote, and each time we do we add those little angle brackets to the lines of text in our messages, ">>>>." So we end up having short lines and long lines staggered throughout the text. This looks very unprofessional, even if you're just sending to friends. That's why all the recommendations for different line lengths. Some will not set their character length to anything greater than 72; some 74, others 76, etc.

    In publishing ezines and newsletters online, however, the standard seems to be 65 characters. This is what most submission guidelines that I have read, recommend. My ezine wraps with hard carriage returns at 65 characters. Almost all of the article submissions I receive are wrapped at 65 characters. If they're not, then I have to reformat them to fit my layout. I don't like reformatting -- it's a time wasting task I could do without.

    Naturally, sigs in my ezine, and many others, can't be longer than 65 characters either.

    How many lines?

    It depends, I suppose, on where you are posting or sending your emails. Discussion lists should be about the same as Usenet, in my opinion. On the other hand if you are posting to opt-in mailing lists for the purpose of advertising your business offerings, there are no rules. It's whatever you can get by with really. Who cares whether you have 20 lines of text and a 4-line sig? How about 4 lines of text and a 20-line sig?

    I have exactly 128 separate sigs in my MS Outlook 2000 sig file. Some of these are actually 12 line, or more, ads; it's just easier to paste them into the email that way.

    Remember the aim of your signature is to be read. If you have a humongous sig it not only won't be read, it will possibly provoke anger -- an emotion you don't need in your prospective customers.

    Signature Dashes

    The "signature dashes" actually is a line which is used as the first line of a signature. This is described in the "son-of-rfc1036": If a poster or posting agent does append a signature to an article, the signature SHOULD be preceded with a delimiter line containing (only) two hyphens (ASCII 45) followed by one blank (ASCII 32).

    The sigdashes act as a separator which allows easy recognition of signatures. This line consists of two dashes and a trailing space, ie "-- " (note the space) and thus can be recognized in a data stream as the character sequence "(newline)(dash)(dash)(space)(newline)". Some programs recognize a signature by the (sigdashes).

    Let me make this perfectly clear: There are no additional characters before, after or in between. This means no whitespace before the dashes, no additional dashes, one space at the end, followed only by an newline which ends the line. That's it!


    If you are posting to newsgroups or discussion lists keep your sig as short as possible; try not to go over four lines. Personal messages probably should be the same; why would you need all that sig space when you have the entire body of the message?

    When I'm posting ads to opt-in lists I usually don't include a sig at all. I want the ad to be the focus, not the sig.

    About The Author

    Doug Davis is the publisher of "Couch Potato Marketing Ezine", a veritable treasure trove of internet marketing information, plus a section highlighting the freebies available to help you increase your bottomline. We Have Bonuses:

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