Sincerely, Me: How to End Your Business Emails

Why are we still writing sincerely at the end of emails and letters to potential customers and our valued clients? Something about it just feels stiff and outdated.

According to Merriam-Webster, sincerely goes back a loooonnnng time. In fact, it dates back to 1560, while genuinely, a close synonym, didn’t appear until 1613. Both words are rooted in Latin, but it seems that a 60-year head start has made it the word of choice for almost 500 years!

Officially, we call using sincerely in a letter or email a complimentary close. And I know you must be thinking, what would we replace it with? Are you suggesting we switch to genuinely? Candidly? Thoughtfully?

In Writing That Works (2000) by Kenneth Roman and Joel Raphaelson, a business writing book, the authors claim that the way you end your message doesn’t matter as long it matches your tone. Specifically, they say that sincerely or sincerely yours is “all right if you don’t mind proclaiming something your reader should take for granted.”

*Caveat. I know my source is old. We had to read it back in college because it’s what David Ogilvy recommended to his staff for clear writing. Actually, he said to read it three times! Not sure who Ogilvy is? Let me make an introduction… Not satisfied? Here’s a recent discussion of sincerely, best regards, and regards from an expert at Grammarly.

Roman and Ralphaelson also mention cordially as the “mindless assertion of hearty friendship,” but suggest that you beware of using it when you’re not so cordial. Regards, best wishes, or all the best? Not so appropriate (according to them) if you don’t know your reader.

They also claim that it’s okay to just sign your name at the end.

But doesn’t that seem a little abrupt? Unless, of course, you’ve been emailing back and forth — by that point, you’re well past pleasantries. Even then, I like to keep signing my name, typically with an accompanying em dash in front of it. Emailing isn’t texting, btw.

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I agree with the idea that adding yours to sincerely makes it more intimate. As in True West, I don’t mean romance. I mean, familiarity. But doesn’t familiarity seem a bit too familiar for a professional relationship? Hmmm…that’s why this is so tough.

What makes it even more difficult to decide on a proper ending is, gasp, the way you started. There’s a lot of hype right now about being approachable and friendly. Can unnecessary pleasantries come off as being a bit fake? Sure. But they’re still better than the stilted language best left to Nigerian prince fraudsters.

Here’s a theory that I think is as good as any: We keep using sincerely because it’s safe. Because how you say goodbye can make or break how the reader (dear reader) feels about your message.

Most established businesses aren’t going to want to send an email that ends with love or HTH.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts and suggestions. A colleague of mine says he’s taken to ending unofficial correspondence with respect and regards.

Whatever you say — choose carefully.

Respect and regards,

Me

UX Writer by day. Obsessive reader, film critic, fiction writer, friend to poets, cats, and environmental crusaders at all times. Opinions are my own.