What is an Electronic Signature? (Overview, Definition, and Examples)

  • By: Josh Palmer
  • February 28, 2023
Reading Time: 6 minutes

eSignatures on OnBoard









With remote work and virtual board meetings now common, digital e-signatures carry the same legal status and weight as handwritten ink on paper without the hassle of printing or passing around a hard copy.

From Fortune 500 companies to local nonprofit boards, getting everyone in the same room or chasing down notaries to validate signatures makes no sense in a fast-paced digital-driven world. 

Your team can securely sign board minutes, sales contracts, and other electronic documents quickly with a digital signature stored on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. 


What is an Electronic Signature?

At its most basic, an electronic signature or e-signature is just a virtual representation of your handwritten signature that you add to digital documents in lieu of printing and signing or initialing on paper. 

Sometimes this takes the form of a literal picture of your signature handwritten in pen on paper. But the most secure electronic signature solutions use software to add extra encryption that authenticates, tracks, and stores the signer’s IP address and time-stamps the digital signature.

Many types of secure e-signatures require signers to complete extra steps to confirm their identities, such as with a Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) encryption to create a unique digital certificate that guarantees its authenticity.


Benefits of an Electronic Signature

From less waste to faster sign offs, electronic signatures offer a number of benefits to your board. 

1. Collect e-Signatures Faster, Cheaper

Sometimes, you can’t gather everyone in one place to sign a document. With board members scattered across the country or world, you’d spend a lot of money on paper and postage to conduct routine business or execute sales contracts. 

E-signatures allow dispersed boards and leaders to collect multiple signatures quickly. Just as you use board management software to keep your team connected, e-signatures keep the board functioning from a distance. 

2. Obtain Legally Binding Signatures Online

You don’t need to track down a notary or obtain a signature on delivery for proof when the document’s encryption validates the e-signature for you. Quality electronic signature solutions prove just as reliable and legally binding as a pen and paper. 

3. Read Original Documents Easier Than Scans

With an e-signature, documents remain in their original electronic form, which humans and computers can easily read. If you’ve ever searched for a detail buried in dozens of pages of scanned meeting minutes, you know why this matters. Text readers often can’t read a scanned document, which makes it harder to search in the future. 

Scanned documents can also become illegible if they go through multiple scans or copies, and you can’t authenticate the original ink signature once it’s digitized.

4. Save Paper With e-Signatures

Why waste paper printing out a physical copy when your board can sign electronically? All too often, secretaries trash or shred papers after they’re scanned. If they retain the original signed documents, then the organization needs to securely store them, which can take up more space. 

How to Add an Electronic Signature to a Word Document

To add a digital signature to Word documents you need a saved picture of your inked handwritten signature, or you can type in text if you use the signature line option.

  • Click on the area where you want to place the e-signature.
  • Select insert, then signature line.
  • Type a name in the Suggested Signer box. You can also add a title, if needed. 
  • Click OK. You will then have a signature line inserted into the document. 
  • The signer can then type a signature, select a picture of their inked signature, or write a signature on their touch-screen.

How to Add an Electronic Signature to a Google Doc

Google Docs integrates with electronic signature solutions provider DocuSign, which lets users add electronic signatures to documents with ease.

  • Visit the Extensions > Add-ons > Get add-ons option in your Google Doc. Search for DocuSign eSignature.
  • Install the add-on. 
  • Once it has been installed, select “Sign with DocuSign.”
  • The platform will take you to DocuSign to put in your personalized signature, which you can then add to Google Docs as necessary. 

How to Add an Electronic Signature Using a Mobile Device

You can sign electronic documents from anywhere with an e-signature, and often that means you’ll add your e-signature from a phone or tablet. The exact method depends on your mobile device’s operating system. 


You can store an e-signature to sign documents from your iPad or iPhone. Open the Markup toolbar in a supported app and choose “Signature.” Then:

  • Select Add or Remove Signature
  • Use your finger or stylus to sign your name
  • Drag it to the preferred location in the document


On Android phones and tablets, you also must draw a signature on docs that allow markup. You can select the “Mobile Signature” option if available in the application, such as mail or a PDF file. Some Android apps have the ability to “create a signature” or “create initials” to store for later. Then, you can easily insert your handwritten signature into your document or email.

Are Electronic Signatures Legally Binding?

In most cases, governments consider electronic signatures just as legally binding on sales contracts or other electronic documents as a physical signature. An e-signature in your board management software can still create an audit trail.

Electronic Signatures in the United States

Under the U.S. Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce (ESIGN) Act, electronic signatures are legally binding in all 50 states. Typically, they hold the same legal status and weight as a handwritten signature. There are notable exceptions, however, such on official court documents, wills, and consumer product recall notices.

Electronic Signatures in the United Kingdom

In the UK, the Electronic Identification and Trust Services regulation authorizes e-signatures. Under eIDAS, digital signatures are legally binding as long as they include the printed name of the person signing, the date and time it was executed, and a unique user ID.

Electronic Signatures in Canada

Like the U.S. and the UK, Canada recognizes e-signatures as legally binding under its Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). The Canadian provinces each recognize the e-signatures on documents, provided those digital signatures are unique to the person signing, the software is under their control, and the software can detect changes made after adding the  e-signature. 

Electronic Signatures in Australia

In Australia, the Corporations Amendment (Meetings and Documents) Act of 2022 permanently authorized electronic signatures as legally binding for most documents throughout the commonwealth. 

Effective Boards Leverage OnBoard

Digital signatures have become more common and more necessary as company and government boards move more of their business online. 

Legally binding e-signatures require your board to follow specific protocols for authenticating and tracking those signatures, which is easier done with board management software that offers electronic signature solutions built-in. 

OnBoard software helps you avoid managing a second e-signature app and organizes your board documents and legal agreements in one secure place — online where your whole team can access them.

And for help organizing your next meeting, check out our free Board Meeting Agenda Template.



About The Author

Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer
Josh Palmer serves as OnBoard's Head of Content. An experienced content creator, his previous roles have spanned numerous industries including B2C and B2B home improvement, healthcare, and software-as-a-service (SaaS). An Indianapolis native and graduate of Indiana University, Palmer currently resides in Fishers, Ind.