Link to Article:

Rains, S.A. & Youn, A.M. (2006). A sign of the times: An analysis of organizational members’ email signatures. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), pp. 1046-1061.

For Topic 2, I chose to review two journal articles and a pop culture reading, because I found the second journal article while searching for an additional pop culture reading, so I just went with that because it was interesting. This is the first journal article I reviewed, which was a content analysis of email signatures and their function as a form of identity management.

The purpose of this study was to analyze the content and format of e-mail signatures, and determine how these signatures serve as a type of impression management both within the organization and with those outside of the organization whom employees communicate with. Previous arguments regarding the communicative function of e-mail signatures focus on identity management; either as a way to “reinforce the organizational identity” or to serve as “evidence of one’s professionalism” or to “reveal what the sender is about”. Genre theory is applied to the research in the present article, and regards the e-mail signature as “an artifact that has arisen out of the socio-historical context of the organizations and, as such, articulates contemporary organizational life”.

The examination of e-mail signatures provides insight into the way in which new communication technologies are used in organizations, and how these technologies are utilized to communicate identity information and manage impressions. Additionally, because signatures are unique to e-mail communication, they provide insight into how communication technology is framed within the organizational culture.
The current study developed two research questions in relation to a content analysis of e-mail signatures and their function within an organization. The first research question addressed content, asking “what types of information are typically included in organizational member’s email signatures?’. The second research question addressed the function of signatures, asking ‘Do the types and amount of information in email signature differ across (a) different types of organizations, (b) a member’s position in his or her organization, and/or (c) a member’s tenure?’. These research questions were utilized to develop an understanding of the e-mail signature and how it functions as a communicative tool within the organization. E-mails were sent to communication students at a large university, and of those who agreed to participate, they received one email with instructions, followed by a second email they were to forward on to businesses. In response, the researchers received 193 email signatures, as well as answers to a brief survey included in the email, for analysis.

Results indicated that a majority of email signatures included name, professional title, organization name, work telephone number and fax number. Few email signatures, less than 10 percent, included home phone numbers, personal quotes or general organizational numbers. While most e-mail signatures held standard information, a few variances were found across different organizational structures and professions. For example, when examining tenure with signature content, those who had been with their organization for between 3-6 years were more likely to include educational achievements and degrees in their signatures. This was attributed to the fact that in many organizations, six years is the average time in which an employee receives a significant promotion, such as partner, or tenure. So, in the formative years between when an employee is “new” and when they should be receiving promotions, the educational levels in the email signature serve as an affirmation of success, a form of identity management.
In addition, it was found that those in medical professions were also more likely to include educational background information in their signatures. Those who worked in financial/legal professional, consulting and engineering organizations were more likely to include a legal disclaimer in their signature.

Overall, the research in the article indicated that email signatures serve as an identity and impression management tool that reflects individual characteristics while recognizing the organizational structure. Employees are able to convey personal information, through the inclusion of educational background, as well as establish rank within the organization through the inclusion of their professional title.