• Different email fields should be used for different reasons
  • CC’s are for informing those related to the subject but not directly involved
  • Use BCC for broadcast email address privacy and certain internal emails
  • If you’re unsure about using BCC for an internal email, don’t use it and instead simply forward the sent email to your intended BCC person
The workplace is a weird kind of place. Things that are totally mundane in real life can suddenly take on this huge importance and cause all sorts of drama in the office.

Accidentally using someone’s private supply of soy milk instead of the community regular milk can start a cold war.

Wearing headphones to mask office noise so that you can get in the zone can be seen as a signal to your boss that you’re not a social team player.

And one simple email can cause such a huge ruckus that it will eat up your time and energy for days.

As if emails aren’t difficult enough as it is - getting the right tone, responding to rude emails, knowing when to take it offline - the simple act of addressing the email in the right way can feel like a dark art in itself.

For example, there’s nothing worse than sending an email with some people in BCC only to be completely outed.

“Thanks for sharing that email about Jill’s project” Bill says loudly as he walks past your desk, knowing full well that he was in BCC and, Jill, sitting next to you, thought that she was the only recipient.

That’s a face-palm moment.

Even if your reason for copying Bill was 100% innocent, the mere fact that it was a blind copy makes it seem malicious.

In hindsight, you would have happily put him in CC instead of BCC, you just didn’t really think about it.

Whose decision was it to have all these different fields for addressing emails anyway? And, does anyone really know how to use them?!

The good news is that each of these fields does have a clear use, and once you understand what makes them different, it becomes pretty easy to choose the right field for the right purpose.

What is CC and BCC Anyway?

Believe it or not, we’ve been CC’ing people long before anyone even dreamed that email could exist.

CC stands for carbon copy. Back in the pre-computer days (which were, scarily, not that long ago) a sheet of carbon paper was placed between two copies of normal paper.

Anything that was written or typed (with a typewriter - remember those?!) onto the first sheet of paper, would be impressed in carbon on the second piece of paper. It was basically a way of making duplicates of documents in real-time without having to write them out twice.

As we progressed onto using email, the same kind of idea moved with us but got a tiny bit more complicated.

In the digital age, you now have to consider that your actions can be seen by whoever else is in the email chain and beyond. And not just that - now you have 3 options: To, CC & BCC (blind carbon copy).

VIDEO: English for Emails: Cc and Bcc explained
YOUTUBE: British Council
LENGTH: 2:50
Summary points:
  • CC keeps people aware of information without requiring a response from them
  • BCC can be used for discreet emails and large group emails for privacy
Before we can become well versed on how and when to use these different fields, we need to know exactly what it is that makes them different.

TO Field
Every recipient in the ‘To’ field can see all other recipients in the ‘To’ and the ‘CC’ field. They cannot see those in the ‘BCC’ field.

CC Field
Every recipient in the ‘CC’ field can also see all other recipients in the ‘To’ and the ‘CC’ field. They cannot see those in the ‘BCC’ field.

BCC Field
Every recipient in the ‘BCC’ field can see all other recipients in the ‘To’ and ‘CC’ field but cannot see the other recipients in the ‘BCC’ field.

So, there doesn’t sound like much of a difference between the fields. This is why we also need to understand what the unwritten rule behind each field is.

The Right Way To Use CC & BCC

Though the outcome of using the different email fields doesn’t seem all that different, after all, whatever you select, the recipient will receive the email. However, it’s important to understand the generally accepted workplace etiquette for using them.

The ‘To’ Field

This is the field to be used for the main recipients of your emails. But what makes someone a main recipient?

Generally, these are the people you would expect to take action based on your email. Even if that action is simply a response to the email.

If you think of the email as a project, the ‘To’ field is all those directly contributing to the project.

The ‘To’ field should be made up of people who are direct stakeholders on this email chain.

If you have to consider whether or not to add someone to the email, they’re more likely to belong in…

The ‘CC’ Field

Though CC stands for carbon copy, it is now often updated to “courtesy copy.” This helps to give you an idea of when it is to be used.

The recipients in this field are not expected to necessarily do anything with the information, you’re simply letting them know, as a courtesy. It’s like an FYI heads up.

This is basically a tool for keeping people in the loop while also letting them and other recipients know that they aren’t directly involved, expected to respond or take action.

If you think of the email as a project again, then these individuals are probably the overseers or only indirectly involved.

The ‘BCC’ Field

This is the one that causes some confusion. This is the field for secrecy - either to protect others or to protect yourself.

When sending out a group email where you don’t want all of the recipients to “see” the full email list, this is the right tool.

This will usually be the case when you’re emailing people outside of your business, for example, a group of clients. You would, of course, want to protect their email addresses from being seen by others and so BCC would be the right choice.

In this case, you would usually put only your own email address in the ‘To’ field.

There are some occasions where BCC works for internal emails as well.

Perhaps you’re collecting feedback on a colleague for their annual review. In this case, you wouldn’t necessarily want each person to know who else is giving feedback for the sake of confidentiality.

These uses for BCC are pretty straightforward.

Where it becomes more difficult is when you’re using it for your own privacy.

A general rule in this case is never use BCC if there hasn’t been prior conversation with the person you are blind copying.

For example, you may be facing a tough challenge with an asshole coworker, client or your boss. The first step for any of these situations should be to discuss them with an advisor, whether that be your manager, HR or a department head.

As a result of this conversation, you will likely decide together on a plan of action. Using BCC after this conversation will be a way of showing them that you have moved forward with what was discussed.

If you have any doubts on whether to use BCC or not, then simply don’t. You can always forward the email to whoever you originally wanted to BCC.

The Wrong Ways to Use CC & BCC

This all sounds pretty straightforward but how do you know when not to use CC or BCC? And what should you do instead?

And just like many things in life, there are right and wrong ways for doing this. So, instead of learning these lessons the hard way through trial and error, try not doing any of the following things.

Don’t CC On Every Little Thing

We already mentioned that using CC is kind of an FYI - but be careful not to go overboard.

Sometimes, it's better to update people in person, and in some cases, they don’t really need to know at all. Oftentimes, the emails we’re sending are focused on quite granular details that people only interested in overall outcomes don’t need to see.

For example, you obviously want your manager or a leader of a project you’re working on to be aware of the work you’re putting in and the status of the project.

But this doesn’t mean you have to CC them on every single email related to the project. That would be a huge overload of information, and they wouldn’t be happy about it.

In these situations, it’s better to just keep them updated of key milestones in person or even send a weekly summary email of the key actions from the week.

Of course, there are some exceptions. In situations where there is a particular challenge you come across in a project, CC’ing them on the email to get their visibility and attention would make sense.

It can be a tricky one to get right. Some questions to ask yourself if you’re unsure whether to add someone to CC or not:

If they don’t receive this email, will they come and ask me for an update?

Does this information relate to one of their top priorities?

Will they even open and read this email if I send it to them?

Don’t Be Passive-Aggressive With CC’ing

We’ve all done it! Someone pisses you off by either being rude or not pulling their weight, and you give them the virtual middle finger by copying their boss in an email.

Bad move.

While this might give you a temporary feeling of smugness, it’s not cool and makes you look petty, unprofessional and lack common sense cubicle etiquette.
email cc insult
If you’re ever sending an email that is taking a jab at someone, don’t copy their manager, their team, your manager or anyone else. Either email them directly or better yet, go and speak to them face to face.

Let’s take the example of working on a group project where everything is being held up because one person hasn’t submitted their work.

You might be tempted to send something along these lines, cc’ing their boss:

Hi Team,

Thanks for all your hard work on the project. I’ve completed my part and added it to our shared folder.

The only thing we’re waiting on is the stats from Kelly and then we can progress.

Kelly, you have continually not met deadlines despite my reminders. If you’re not capable of completing your tasks, please let me know so that I can escalate.

When will they be ready?


In this case, not only have you called your colleague out for not completing their work, you’ve also put them on the spot and totally laid the responsibility for the whole project on them.

A better approach is to talk directly with the coworker and find out what’s the hold up.

You might find out that they’re delayed because they’ve been putting out fires all day or that it is the result of someone else’s tardiness, not theirs. Or you may find that they’ve actually been off sick. Whatever you find out, you’ll be relieved that you went to discuss it with them first before firing off a nasty-gram.

Then you can send a more collaborative update, like this

Hi Team,

Thanks for all your hard work. I’ve completed my part and added it to our shared folder and Kelly’s stats will be added by Friday so I suggest we meet on Monday to discuss next steps.


Don’t CC or BCC For Bitching & Gossipping

Work is already a stressful place even without the added gossip and drama that seems to plague every office.

Let’s not become part of the problem, okay? We’re trying to avoid the gossip trap at work.

CC or BCC should never be used as a way of venting, bitching and/or gossipping.

If you’re sending an email to put someone in their place after reading their rude email or following a tense argument, there’s no need to do it in front of an audience by cc’ing a whole bunch of other people.

Even though the recipient might not know, you’re still causing unfair embarrassment for them. Plus, it makes you look childish and unprofessional. It’s time to grow up and be an adult at work.

A good question to ask yourself when considering a BCC is, if my manager or HR saw this email, including my BCCs, what would they say?

It’s important to think about it in this way rather than thinking of the recipient because, sometimes, your recipient might be a bully or someone doing something wrong. So they wouldn’t be pleased to know that your boss was BCCed but you would still be doing the right thing.

As with many things, we can generally figure out the right plan of action if we take time to think about what we’re doing, our intended outcome, and act from a place of calm and clarity.

We’re willing to bet that most times when you’ve used CC or BCC in the wrong way, it was in a case of quick, angry responses.

If you have an understanding of email etiquette paired with a calm, measured approach, you can’t go wrong.

Knowledge Brings Confidence & Calm

keyboard happy smiley enter key
Emails are simply a tool for communication. They should be helping us at work, not hindering us and creating unnecessary office politics and drama.

When we’re unsure about the proper use of email etiquette it can be a real drain on our time.

We spend hours fretting over the right wording and the right recipients for an email. Then, if we get it wrong, we spend days trying to repair the damage.

But it doesn’t have to be like this.

Once we properly understand email etiquette, we can fire emails off without a second thought or hesitation.

After all, who needs to stress about emails when we’ve got more important things to think about - like what’s for dinner and where to take our next budget weekend staycation.

Feel Better,

more on cubicle life