It's all about me: Why e-mails are so easily misunderstood: "'To avoid miscommunication, e-mailers need to look at what they write from the recipient's perspective...One strategy: Read it aloud in the opposite way you intend, whether serious or sarcastic. If it makes sense either way, revise. Or, don't rely so heavily on e-mail. Because e-mails can be ambiguous...'"
It's so true emails are easily misunderstood. It's even worse if you are used to speak by metaphors,irony and understatement and try to do that in emails!
It's not easy to read between the lines in social context,
it becomes a "tour de force" to read between the lines in an e-mail (what? anyone doubt the expressiveness of a white pixel?)
This is where smilies help... sometimes and I disagree with people who see the use of such symbols as a lack of imagination, erudition or whatever.
They don't always work because, first you can not map the infinite subtlety of body expression into a limited meaningful combination of a couple of characters.
Secondly smilies are undoubtedly associated with very informal speeches which is the area where misunderstanding do the least damage.
Reading aloud an e-mail is not practical at all unless you are a lonely Uber Nerd (in that case nobody understand you anyway whatever medium you choose) or a caveman (and you're unlikely to have a computer down there).
One may think that the instant aspect of an e-mail exchange leads people to think less before sending an e-mail
I think it's true (just see the number of headlines mentioning e-mail scandals in corporate world), but surprising given the asynchronous aspect of an e-mail exchange compared to Instant messaging or phone calls.
I don't think it's a tricky issue though:
Be very explicit when writing e-mails and don't argue via e-mail: it's easier and more efficient to regret and/or apologies in IM/telephone/direct contact, while everything said in e-mail is written in stone forever (and tends to leak ...)
If one has to be PC, nothing is better than direct human contact.