Text communication is perhaps the easiest to grasp for a new player. The key difference between text chat in EVE and text chat in many other games is the sheer volume of available channels. By default, every player is in the channel for their local chat, their corporation, and their alliance (if applicable). In addition, there is an uncountable number of channels out there that you could be chatting in.
Some corporations will have special shared intelligence or operations channels that are used to communicate with allies. If your corporation uses corps made up of alts, they will also have a channel to talk when they are not logged into their mains, or there could be a separate channel simply due to the fact that the default Corp chat does not allow for a Message of the Day, whereas a created channel does. If this is the case for your corporation, it is your corp's responsibility to tell you that they exist, since your client won't automatically join them until you join then manually at least once.
With text chat, my personal greatest difficulty is managing the on-screen real-estate they take up. It is very easy to fill your screen with boxes absolutely full of tabs for various chat channels. Usually, the best method is to keep one or two sets of channels open, and have all of the others minimized. These groups can be changed by dragging channels onto one another. When the box you are dragging the channel to becomes highlighted, you can release the mouse, and the channel will stick in the box. Play around with window size and position to where it is most comfortable for you.
Next comes the area where EVE really stands apart, which is the reliance on voice communication. There are a few options when it comes to voice communications. If you are a member of a corporation, they will have their own solution worked out, most likely. If you are starting your own corp, you will have to make the choice between one of the third party applications, such as TeamSpeak and Ventrilo, or using the in-game voice protocol from Vivox. Despite the in-game integration of Vivox, as well as the more than adequate quality, my own personal experience suggests that many of the big players out there continue to use third-party clients for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the ability to be on voice comms without having to be logged into the game, and the ability to maintain comms when one's client crashes.
The three major voice options, while rather different, can be approached in a similar way, and there are certain rules of etiquette and procedure. Knowing these going in will make your life a lot easier. The first thing to do when you are preparing to enter voice comms is to check your hardware. Ventrilo, TeamSpeak, and Vivox all have means to test and adjust your microphone level. It is rather frustrating to have to turn up your headphones to hear someone who is far too quiet, only to have your eardrums disintegrated by someone whose volume is too high. Take a moment to listen to yourself. If you would be annoyed listening to how you sound for 2 to 3 hours, then adjust your settings.
Now your volume settings are correct, and it's time to start chatting away! Not so fast. First there are two very minor, but very vital things that you need to do. First, set up a "push to talk" key. This will prevent the XBOX Live issue of hearing absolutely everything going on in someone's background. It's a small thing, but it will make a world of difference in how your corp mates react to you on voice chat. Also, contrary to popular belief, your microphone does not need to be in front of your mouth. In fact, that may well be the worst place to position your microphone. What will happen is that every time you speak, air will hit the mic, and it results in a rather unpleasant noise on the listener's end. Spend time listening on voice comms and you'll understand what this is like. Typically the best place to put your headset mic is in front of the bridge of your nose, or even off to the side of your eye. You may think that your mic won't pick you up, but it will. If it makes you too quiet, then simply go back and re-adjust your volume settings.
Your voice levels are correct, and you won't sound like Darth Vader when you speak, so now it's time to get talking! The approach and atmosphere that each corporation and alliance takes to communications, especially in PvP are going to be very different. Some will allow more cutting up than others, and the only way to really figure out when it is ok to speak is to listen and learn from others. Suffice to say, when the shooting starts, silence is golden most of the time. Fleet superiority in EVE PvP relies heavily on focused fire, and voice comms are the primary tool where primary targets will be called. Listen and follow the target calls, and your fleet will stand a much better chance of coming out on top.
Finally, as with many things in EVE, communication and comms discipline can seem very intimidating. The best way to avoid making a mistake is not to obsess about it, but rather to simply watch others. You will get a feel for what is and isn't acceptable in your group, and if you are finding you and your corp clash strongly on your views, then you can always find a group of players whose views are more in-line with your own.
Philip "Crovan" Manning loves to write about EVE, play EVE and eat carebears for lunch. When not writing for Massively or playing EVE, he can be found co-hosting The Drone Bay podcast along with CrazyKinux and Alsedrech, or writing for his own blog, Bitter Old Noob. All questions, comments and offers of large ISK