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Sign-offs and siggys and smileys. Are these and other e-mail snafus throwing you for a loop? Then read this before you hit send.
Janene Mascarella

The best way to sign off.
While you’re not going to “peace out” your vice president, signing off on a professional e-mail can cause some serious head-scratching. Sincerely, Take Care, Yours Truly -- which to choose? For some reason, Best is often deemed the universal brush-off. While it is professional, some people get hysterical when they see Best, says Rachel C. Weingarten, business-manners marketing maven and author of Career and Corporate Cool (Wiley, $22). It can come off as curt: What? I thought we had a better relationship than BEST! If your boss has Best-ed you, though, don’t sweat it. It’s probably not a snub, Weingarten explains. Often people just have no idea how to end an e-mail, and it’s just a way of putting something (anything) before their name. “I think Best is the tofu of sign-offs. It can mean anything,” she says. When in doubt, Weingarten suggests using My best or even All my best, which sound much warmer. And vaguely reminiscent of 1974.

Get the message?
When it comes to business communication, e-mails are the ultimate conversational tool -- but it’s tricky because they’re so open to interpretation. Surprisingly, emoticons (überannoying if overused) are not necessarily a no-no, says Weingarten. There are times when you want to temper what you’re saying. In person, physical gestures say so much -- you can say something harsh with a soft tone of voice. In an e-mail, the subtleties are gone. Used sparingly, emoticons can serve a purpose. “There are times I’ve gotten a smiley face from a client and it literally made my day,” Weingarten says. When quickly shooting off or scanning an e-mail, it’s also easy to misrepresent or misinterpret the meaning. Weingarten believes this is an instance where women and men in business differ. “Many men whom I deal with will not second- or triple-guess themselves wondering about wording or how [an e-mail] sounds,” she says, “while women tend to realize that someone might take it the wrong way or become more sensitive and reread it.” If you’ve opened an e-mail that at first glance seems rude, resist the urge to read between the lines. Oftentimes, it’s just the sender’s no-nonsense business style. Another noteworthy tip: When Weingarten’s e-mailing from her mobile, she includes a reference in her signature that says she’s on the road. That avoids anyone being put off if she seems abrupt or if there are spelling or grammar issues.

The Top 10 E-mail Turnoffs

Thou shall not:

10 Get overly cutesy or slang-happy in a professional e-mail. OMG -- your CEO might not LOL, K?

9 Skimp on the subject line. Sum it up appropriately or risk getting zapped by the delete button.

8 Miss the Mr. or Mrs. mark. In an awkward “It’s Pat” situation, instead of taking a lucky stab at gender, either take the time to find out or skip the title and go first name/ last name.

7 Send it off without running a spell-check. Even if you’re the spelling-bee champ three times over, “misteaks” can sneak in.

6 Sprinkle your message with flowery language. Get thee to the point. E-babbling = epic failure.

5 CC: for all to see. Treat someone’s e-mail address like a home phone number.

4 Send an irate, angry, or potentially embarrassing message. Pick up the phone and call, because the ghosts of e-mails past can come back to haunt you.

3 Use your work e-mail for personal time (read: racy). It could lead to the ultimate “out of office” response from your boss.

2 Go all willy-nilly with the wingdings.

1 Hit reply all. It’s the dumbest move of the century. In fact, Zappos.com keeps track of who “replies all” to company-wide e-mails and (in good fun) crowns offenders with a “reply all” hat of shame. This should be universal.