CC and BCC are both methods used to send copies of an email to additional people — but there’s an important difference for CC vs BCC that you may have never thought about.
Emailing is so natural most people never take a class on it or get specific job training in how to use it. But when it comes to using email in a professional setting, there’s a right and a wrong way to do things.
The carbon copy and blind carbon copy difference is small but important. Here’s the email etiquette for when to use CC and BCC in Gmail emails.
Definitions of TO, CC and BCC in Gmail
When you write an email, CC and BCC are the two fields next to or just below the TO field in Gmail. TO, CC and BCC are your three options for getting a Gmail message to your recipients.
The TO field is the default option and it’s pretty self-explanatory — TO is used for the primary recipients of your email. The other two fields require a little explanation.
Why It’s Called a “Carbon Copy”
CC is an abbreviation for “carbon copy” and BCC is an abbreviation for “blind carbon copy.”
If you’re wondering about the origin of these terms, here’s a short explanation.
When email was first invented in the 1970s, you couldn’t just make a run to the copy store around the corner. Instead, most copies were made with something called carbon paper.
To make a copy, you placed a sheet of carbon paper in between two regular sheets of paper to imprint a copy of whatever you wrote on the top sheet onto the bottom sheet. Today, physical carbon copies may be a thing of the past, but the term lives on in email.
You may also hear CC or BCC referred to as a “courtesy copy” or “blind courtesy copy” — which is a good way of thinking about how these email functions are used. You can tell your boss you CC’d him a copy of the report, and he’ll know he’s got a courtesy copy handy if he needs it.
Difference Between CC and BCC in Gmail
There’s a small but important difference between CC and BCC in Gmail, just as there is in other email programs. The difference has to do with three things:
- What recipients see.
- What it means.
- What actions recipients can take.
First, think about the TO field.
What TO Recipients See
Recipients listed in the TO field get your email and see that it’s been sent directly to them. They can also see who else has received the email.
What a TO Email Means
In terms of email etiquette, seeing your email in the TO field means the content is intended to be directly relevant to you, and an action or reply may be needed.
What Actions a TO Recipient Can Take
With the click of a button, you have the ability to reply back to the sender, or “reply all” to discuss the message with everyone involved.
The CC and BCC fields are different.
What CC Recipients See
Recipients listed in the CC field get your email and see that they have been CC’d on the message. Like the TO field recipients, they can also see everyone else who has received the message.
What a CC Email Means
Being CC’d on an email has a different meaning than being one of the primary recipients. It means the sender wants to keep you in the loop about the message content, or who else has received a particular message. But you’re not expected to take action or reply to the message.
What Actions a CC Recipient Can Take
While you aren’t expected to reply to a CC email, you can, and there might be a good reason to do so — such as if you’re subordinates have outdated info or need direction on a problem.
Now here’s the difference with BCC emails.
What BCC Recipients See
As the “B” in blind carbon copy implies, what a BCC recipient sees is different. The BCC recipient receives your email and can see that you sent it to them. They can see everyone listed in the TO and CC fields, as well.
However, they can’t see who else you sent the message to using BCC and none of the other recipients can’t see that this person got a BCC copy — those details are hidden. If there are replies to the email, the BCC recipient won’t know unless you tell them.
What a BCC Email Means
A BCC email can mean a few things. Most often, BCC is intended for private recipients who don’t need to take any action.
If you get a BCC email at work, it may be that someone wants to discretely let you know about an issue.
Most commonly, BCC is used for sending newsletters to a list of hidden recipients, with many addresses. BCC newsletter emails have a clean, personalized look, and the full recipient list stays private for added online safety.
What Actions a BCC Recipient Can Take
A BCC recipient can reply back to the sender if they wish, to ask a question or make a comment. Other BCC recipients won’t see this email and won’t be in the loop.
If you receive a BCC email that’s part of a marketing campaign or newsletter, note that your reply to the sender may go unanswered, since the email might be coming from an unmonitored inbox.
A word of caution — hitting “reply all” as a BCC recipient on an email where there are TO and CC recipients is generally considered poor email etiquette. If you have to comment on a BCC email with other TO and CC recipients, it’s better to send a separate private message to the original sender.
When to Use TO, CC and BCC in Gmail
If you’re an email sender, you may have questions about the email etiquette for when to use TO, CC and BCC in Gmail. Particularly since there is a difference between CC and BCC, you want to make sure you are using the right one.
When to Use TO
Use TO to send an email when:
- The message is for the recipient.
- An action or a reply may be needed.
When to Use CC
Use CC to send an email when:
- The message keeps the recipient in the loop.
- An action or reply is not needed.
When to Use BCC
Use BCC to send an email when:
- The message recipients need to remain private.
- The message may be sent as a mass newsletter.
- An action or reply is not needed.
In some cases, the right etiquette for sending CC and BCC emails can be tricky. For more details, see these articles on when to send CC emails and when to send BCC emails.
More Ways to Stay Organized
Using CC and BCC in Gmail the right way helps you stay organized when you’re emailing at work. By putting your email recipients in the right recipient field, you let people know why you’re emailing and what actions they need to take.
Understanding when to use CC vs BCC saves time and helps you look more professional. These days, email can take up a lot of time, so every minute saved counts.
If you’re a professional looking to save even more time on your email, you might enjoy Folio.
Folio is an email add-on that lives in your Gmail or Outlook email account and helps you organize your emails into smart workflows that make sense, saving you hours a week on your inbox.
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