I am usually afraid to send emails to other people. It is not as bad as calling them, but each email I send is usually accompanied with a little burst of anxiety.
The main reason for this is, that I don't want to annoy people. I am trying to stop myself from this, because email is something that people have any right to delete without reading and they can also check email whenever they want. So it should not be a problem to send email anyway.
Because this is a social situation, it is always easier to have some rules of tumb for acting. Which is why I was thankful to my professor, when he recommended my exactly this.
RAND organization published Toward an Ethics and Etiquette for Electronic Mail[PDF]. There, even in the 80s', they have predicted some of the problems we have with email these days and created a couple of rules of how to write emails.
While the book itself is worth reading (only 48 pages), for the people that don't want to read it, here is the list of rules for the lazy people that don't want to read it. And for me, so I don't need to look for them the next time I need to write an email. Since this should be the bare minimum that each of us should use.
The rules of sending emails:
- Create single subject messages whenever possible
- Assume that any message you send is permanent
- Have in mind the model of your intended audience
- Keep a list of recipients and cc:s to a minimum
- Separate opinion from non-opinion and clearly label each
- If you must express emotion in a message, clearly label it
- Other content labels are useful
- Think about the level of formality you put in a message
- Identify yourself and your affiliations clearly
- Be selective in broadcasts for information
- Do not insult or criticize third parties without giving them a chance to respond
The rules for replying to emails:
- If you receive a message intended for another person, don't just ignore it
- Avoid responding when emotional
- If message generates emotions, look again
- Assume the honesty and competence of the sender
- Try to separate opinion from non-opinion while reading the message, so you can respond appropriately
- Consider whom you should respond to
- Consider alternative media
- Avoid irrelevancies