Academic Etiquette and email- What do you think?

A few postgrads here were chatting ab0ut the etiquette regarding correspondences with academic professionals.  If, in your doctoral research, you are interested in contacting an expert on a particular issue, is it OK to shoot off an email to this person (you have not met personally) and ask a question?  What has been your experience?  Have you found anyone (no names needed) snobbish and rude?  Have you found scholars generally helpful?  If you are a professional, are you bothered by Phds (not at your institution) who send emails to you about reading their work or answering a question?  Please post a comment about your own experience (with relatively ‘big name’ scholars [please do not give their name either way]).

Here is my experience.  Most scholars are flattered, if you are very polite and tentative in your email (‘would you be so kind…I would really appreciate…if you are too busy and cannot comment I understand…).  I have emailed a handful of ‘expert’ scholars and overall the response has been very good.  Only one did not email back at all, and perhaps he has changed his email address.  I emailed a Philo scholar with a quick question and he was very kind and helpful in his response. I emailed a relatively new lecturer but a leading scholar in his field and he took a long time to get back to me (4-6 weeks), but the response was thorough. I emailed a very prominent evangelical scholar and he emailed back right away but didn’t really answer my question.  I emailed another prominent evangelical scholar and he emailed back with a really good and useful response.  So, its a mixed bag, it seems.  But, I sometimes feel bad ‘bothering’ him or her.  Here are some questions we all could dialogue about:

1. If you get a good and encouraging response, is it OK to email again with another question?  Or, is it a kind of – everyone gets 1 courtesy question, but after that it gets annoying???

2. Should you email them something they have to read (like a word doc of your research)?  Obviously it would be rude and a bit presumptuous to send a 50-page document!  But, what about 3 pages?  What about 1 page?

3. If they don’t respond within 2 weeks, should you email again, or take it as a sign that they do not want to be bothered?  BTW – I had someone who didn’t email for a long, long time and he simply forgot.  He eventually found it and emailed, but it seems that he would not have minded if I would have sent him a ‘reminder’ email.  But I didn’t.

As you all are thinking about this, I have a couple of suggestions.  First, you should try to dialogue with scholars in the field. Biblical studies is a small world and if you go to SBL you will understand that.  But, when you email, be polite without being obsessive – give them to option of saying ‘sorry, I cannot help you right now’.  Also, don’t ask them a question that anyone could answer – make sure they are really needed for this issue, or else you are just wasting their time.  Finally, use their institutional email before their private email – or else they may think you are stocking them!  Not really, but its like showing up at their house as opposed to their office.  I know I would find it a bit wierd.  Finally, make use of any connections you have – ‘I heard you speak at a conference at my undergrad’ or ‘We met the Eerdmans booth at SBL’.

I am anxious to hear anyone’s experiences – either from the end of the eager student or the busy (but gracious?) scholar.

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