Outlook Tips & Techniques: Signature Doesn't Appear After Changing an Open Message's Sending Account

Answers to your Microsoft Outlook questions

I've created a signature in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 and associated it with a specific account. However, when I have a message open and choose this account, the account's signature doesn't show in the message. How can I make the signature appear?

In "Using the Right Signature," February 2004, InstantDoc ID 41019, I explain that WordMail needs to be your email editor in Outlook 2003 in order for the signature to change when you change the sending account on an open message. What I neglected to mention is that you also need to have a signature for every account because Outlook knows where to insert the account-specific signature only when a signature is already present in the message.

Here's a little more detail about how this feature works. Let's assume that you have a signature set for every account for replies and forwards as well as new messages. When you create a new message, Outlook automatically inserts at the top of the message the signature associated with your default account. When you reply to or forward a message, Outlook inserts your signature that's associated with the account that the original message arrived from because Outlook by default uses the message's originating account to send a reply or forward. Up to this point, the signature functionality is the same whether you're using the built-in editor or WordMail. The enhancement that WordMail adds is marking the entire signature with a hidden bookmark named _MailAutoSig. When you select a different sending account and you're using WordMail as the editor, Outlook finds that bookmarked text and replaces it with the signature from the selected account.

This also explains why it's so easy to switch signatures with WordMail: You just right-click the signature block and select from the list of available signatures. Word can display its context-sensitive signature menu because you've clicked in the area marked with the _MailAutoSig bookmark.

I recommend that you create a blank signature and name it Nothing. When you want to remove the signature that Outlook has automatically inserted, you can simply right-click the signature block and choose your Nothing signature.

You should also have an idea now about why you sometimes might lose message text when you change the sending account in an open mail message: When you change accounts, Outlook replaces all text inside the bookmarked area, including anything that you typed in that area. To avoid that problem, use a small separator such as a pair of hyphens (—) to set off your signature, as Figure 1 shows. To avoid entering text in the signature block, simply start your typing above that separator.

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