The Etiquette of When to CC and BCC

Fiona Mulvaney- Waterford Technologies

As a follow on from my blog last week “Are you managing email or is email managing you?” I thought I would keep with the same theme this week but offer a practical reminder we all need from time to time.

That is the etiquette of when to CC and BCC. It’s so easy just to add people to CC and BCC, however, we all should take the time to ask ourselves who needs to be CC or BCC on a particular email.

Obviously it’s different for each organisation depending on the culture, size, location etc. However, unless we take the time to think about it we are all just adding to the problem of email overload.

I came across an article “How to use Cc and Bcc Effectively” by Philip Lop where he acknowledges;

“Email is an unquestionably effective means of communicating with a wide range of users.  Email is, however, increasingly being seen as a drain on management time, largely because of the sheer volume of messages received and because managers often have no means of prioritising those that really need their attention. This is a scenario that could easily be avoided if users simply made better use of the basic tools made available in all email browsers. Appropriate use of the ‘To’, ‘cc’ and ‘bcc’ fields is a good way to start”

If we all keep the following points as outlined by Philip Lop in our mind in our daily use of email it will help not only our colleagues but our organisations to be more productive & efficient;

When to Use the To Field?

Remember that the To field should only include those users who are directly affected by the message you are sending. Think of it as asking somebody to do something; whether that’s replying with information and comment, forwarding on to someone else or simply reading and noting the content.

Typically, those people you include in the To field will be included in your email’s opening line e.g. “Dear Bill and Joan”. Remember that you can usually include an unlimited number of email addresses in the To field. A common mistake is using the CC or BCC field when sending a mail to multiple users.

Before adding an email address to the To field, remember to ask yourself what action you are requesting of the recipient. If there is no action and you are simply adding the person for informational purposes, it’s probably best to use one of the other fields below.

Mailbox Analyzer Lite

When to Use the CC Field?

The CC (Carbon Copy) field is intended for those who may need to know about the main content of the email but need take no action themselves. Think of it as “for information only” but only when the information is not critical. Consider whether the information is genuinely of interest to the receiver or just a “nice to know”.

The CC field is often used inappropriately. Many users will carbon copy a recipient’s manager as some form if informal escalation and on this basis it’s unclear what action the person being carbon copied is expected to take.

A formal escalation requires that a message be sent directly to the appropriate person. There is no such thing as information escalation. Copying in an employee’s line manager in this way can be construed as bullying as it suggests that the recipient should take more notice of what you are saying.

When to Use the BCC Field?

The BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) field is different again. Blind carbon copy means that recipients in the To and CC fields will not be able to see users addressed in this way. This can be useful when you want your manager to be aware of something that you are dealing with, but don’t want them to take action.

The blind carbon copy field is also useful when you are sending a communication to a list of individuals who need the same information but shouldn’t be able to see the email addresses of every other person receiving the message.

This field may also be used in sensitive situations where you do not necessarily want the recipient to know you have added others to the email. For example, adding your boss to the BCC field when dealing with a complaint will allow them to see what action has been taken without the customer being aware.

Other Points to Consider

Remember that appropriate use of these fields is not restricted to the first time a message is sent. Every time you reply to or forward an email consider the use of these three fields. Clicking the ‘Reply All’ button can be extremely unhelpful if the message wasn’t correctly addressed in the first place and you are just perpetuating the cycle.

One way to manage your inbox is to have all messages automatically filed according to whether they were sent to you as a full addressee (To) or a carbon copy (CC). The former should indicate an immediate priority and it can be useful to work through these first if you are short of time. This way of working falls down, however, where users fail to use the To and CC fields in the right way.

Also, don’t be frightened to ask people to stop sending you certain messages. If a particular colleague is continually repeatedly sending you messages via carbon copy, you may prefer not to receive them at all. In this situation, it saves time for everyone to request you be removed from subsequent emails.

Despite their simplicity, all these behaviors take some getting used to, particularly when you work alongside others who repeatedly send everything to everyone. But the benefits of continually demonstrating the right behavior should quickly realize a reduction in the volume of emails that you receive that require immediate (or indeed any) action.

Want to Know More About Email Etiquette?

Now that you know the basics, make sure to read our blog on 10 Email Mistakes to Avoid to make sure that your emails are read. Or for more on email etiquette, check out our guide to writing business emails.