If you're a working professional, at some point throughout your career, you've probably been a victim of an accidental CC on some email thread that didn't pertain to you. You know — the email that your colleague over in another department sent to you by mistake, and you somehow found yourself part of a never-ending conversation of which you never wanted to be part. Sure, you could silence the thread or politely ask that you be removed, but it's taking up valuable space in your already cluttered inbox and it's taking time out of your day.
Likewise, you may have been the sender of an accidental CC. Maybe you were sending out holiday party invites across the office to your colleagues, clients and family members, or perhaps you were emailing a weekly or monthly report to your various clients — and you CC'ed them all instead of BCC'ing them all, so they were all able to see each others' emails (aka invade each others' privacy if they really wanted), and they all got bombarded with a billion and one "reply-alls."
You neither want to be on the receiving or the sending end of a CC fail. And that's why you should understand the important differences between CC and BCC — what each of those mean when it comes to emailing, how to CC and BCC in an email and when and why to choose CC over BCC and vice versa.
Here's everything you need to know about CC'ing and BCC'ing in an email.
What does CC mean in an email?
When you send an email, there is a recipient, a CC line, a BCC line, a subject line and a body. The person who you are sending the email to should be listed in the email recipient line, and anyone else who is important to the conversation but not the person to whom you're directly speaking, should go in the CC line. CC'ing someone on an email involves them in the conversation without necessarily making their participation obligatory.
When should you use CC instead of BCC in an email?
You should CC someone on an email when you want everyone in the email to be aware of who is participating in the thread, when it's OK to share contact information and when you will want everyone in the thread to stay on top of the conversation as it progresses.
For example, your boss may ask to be CC'ed on all of your emails while you're first starting out so that they can keep an eye on your email etiquette and how well you're doing (or not doing) your job. Likewise, if you're sending an invoice to an accounts payable team as a freelancer, you might send the invoice to your invoicing contact but CC your manager so that they can be aware of and double-check your invoice. This way, if they need to intervene, they're abreast of the conversation and can reply, as well.
You should know that whoever is CC'ed in your email can see all of the email chain participants, and whoever directly receives the email can also see the contact information for whoever is CC'ed. Because of this, you should be respectful of people's privacy before tacking them onto emails. You should also be respectful of their time before tacking them onto emails that don't pertain to them! After all, if recipients or anyone CC'ed on the email "reply all" to the thread, everyone will get the email.
What does BCC mean in an email?
The BCC line functions a lot like the CC line in an email with one major exception: those who are BCC'ed in the email will not be visible to the recipient of the email.
When should you use BCC instead of CC in an email?
You should use BCC instead of CC when you don't want any of the recipients or CC'ed contacts on the email to see who is BCC'ed, as well as when you don't want everyone to "reply all."
You might BCC a guest list of contacts who you're inviting to a happy hour, for example, as you wouldn't necessarily want to share all of their contact information with one another without their permission. You might also BCC all of your clients on the same email, if you're sending a generic, mass email — as opposed to typing it out and starting a bunch of email threads that could have been condensed to one thread for your own inbox's organizational sake.
When a recipient replies "all" to an email with other BCC'ed contacts, you won't have to worry about all of those contacts getting their email. It'll only go to you!
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.