|Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: Outlook’s Signature and vCard Features
If there's anything we hate in this postmodern age, it's anonymity. That's why we appreciate personal touches that connect us to other people. You can use this to your advantage when you create e-mail messages.
More than likely, if you subscribe to a LISTSERV, you have seen ".sig" blocks at the bottom of messages, similar to this one:Gene Mogley
National Facilities Management, Inc.
Chicago, Illinois USA
Of course, Gene doesn't type this in every time - his software does it for him. Microsoft Outlook can also automatically add tailored signatures to your e-mail. If you send messages in HTML format, you can enhance the appearance of your signature and include links to locations on the Internet. Here is an example from business e-mail. Notice the alternate font and color used in the company name and slogan:
See the attachment at the bottom of the frame? This is a "virtual" business card, or vCard. Many e-mail clients and contact management applications use the vCard format. Joe may be able to import this file directly into his address book. If Joe is using Outlook, he only has to drag the vCard icon onto the Contacts icon in the Outlook bar and Bill's contact information will be imported immediately.
More Than Just a Pretty Face
So what does it take to use these features?
In this article, you will learn how to put together a signature and a vCard and store them under an easy-to-identify name. You'll also learn how to put "advertisements" in your vCard, and how to switch between signatures or to use no signature at all.
All directions here are based on Outlook 2000; the procedures are very similar in any version of Outlook from Office 95 onward.
Step by Step
The very first step, though, is to make sure that you have a record in your Outlook Contacts for yourself. This will be the basis for the vCard you will attach to your signature. Here is an example that someone developed while job hunting.
The web page address in this record most likely contains a resume, so that the person who receives the contact information can go straight to the document just by clicking on the link. Notice that the comments section includes a little information about the sender's job objective and a summary of his experience. You can place any kind of "advertising copy" that you wish in the comments area.
If you haven't already set up a contact record for yourself, it's very simple to do so. In Outlook, choose Contacts from the Outlook Shortcuts menu.
From the File menu, choose New and then New Contact. Alternatively, you can use the shortcut CTRL + N, or you can click the New Contact button in the icon bar. You need only complete the General tab of the dialog. Then choose Save and Close on the dialog panel.
The next step is to create a customized signature file.
Begin by opening your Inbox in Outlook. From the Tools menu, choose Options. This will open the Options dialog.
There are several tabs on this dialog. Choose Mail Format.
For our purposes in setting up a signature, it doesn't matter whether you have chosen HTML format or plain text as your default format. HTML format preserves any font selections, colors, and paragraph positioning choices you make for your signature, and also allows placing graphics in the signature. Text just shows the text.
It also doesn't matter whether or not you have chosen to use Stationery.
If you haven't already set up a signature, the last drop-down control on the Mail Format dialog will show <None>. Click on the Signature Picker button to set up your new signature.
The Signature Picker opens. In this case it is showing the "Business" signature that you saw earlier. We are going to create a new signature called "Job Search" so click on the New… button.
Enter "Job Search" in the text box under item 1, and leave the option button under item 2 set to "Start with a blank signature." Then click Next to open the Edit Signature - (Job Search) dialog box.
Type in the text that you want to have as your signature block. You can highlight this and choose the Font…, Paragraph…, or Advanced Edit… button to change the font and appearance of the text. The Advanced Edit button will open your HTML editor and allow you to incorporate graphics or other features into your signature file.
We're keeping this signature pretty simple, though. Remember, if you will be sending e-mail as plain text rather than as HTML, or if a recipient is not opening mail as HTML, fancy enhancements with the Advanced Edit feature will be to no avail.
Next, we will create and attach a vCard to the signature. This step uses the personalized Outlook contact information we set up earlier. Click on the New vCard from Contact… button.
Scroll through the contact names to find yours, highlight it, and click the Add -> button, then the OK button. You will be returned to the Edit Signature - (Job Search) dialog.
You can see here the results of our efforts. Not fancy, but it will serve the purpose intended and our work is done. Click OK to close the Edit Signature dialog.
Continue clicking OK buttons to exit back to the Inbox.
You can test the new signature by opening a new message (CTRL + N, or open the Actions menu and choose New Message).
To use the new signature on every message, set it as the default on the Mail Format dialogue. If you will often be using different signatures, you may want to set the default to
To see what the vCard will look like to the recipient, double click on the attachment.
Warnings and Suggestions
First, as noted above, some signature features will only be useful if you send your e-mail in HTML format and if your recipients choose to read e-mail in HTML format. Your best and safest bet is to format your signature as if it will only be seen as plain text.
Many recipients will not know anything about vCards or how to use them. Human Resources staff (such as recruiters) may not forward the vCards with your resume to the hiring manager. Be sure the vCard isn't the only place where important bits of your message appear.
Be aware that what you see may not be what your recipient gets. Suppose you specify a particular font ("Magneto" for example) for your signature. If the recipient does not have the "Magneto" font on her system, she will see your text in a different font - the closest font that she has available.
Finally, all signatures are stored individually as HTML files in the folder WINDOWS/Application Data/Microsoft/Signatures. You can edit these files with any HTML editor or with Notepad. If you send a message as text, Outlook will strip out the HTML and send the signature as plain text characters. The formatting, color, fonts, graphics and so on will all be lost.
These matters notwithstanding, many experienced Outlook users append their signatures and vCards automatically to their messages every day. It's a pair of features well worth mastering.