In past years the workplace has become both increasingly intergenerational and irreversibly digital. Nowadays, we communicate at such a rapid pace that we overlook the continued importance of email etiquette. Even though lightning-fast messaging and conferencing platforms have become ubiquitous, email composition and technical skills remain crucial. Specifically, email etiquette about how to use the CC function.
Why? Because our inboxes are our livelihoods, collaboration tools, and to-do lists.
It’s important to know exactly who is communicating and what their role within the email thread is. This applies to all manner of professional relationships including boss to employee, coworker to coworker, and service provider to customer.
In this article, we’ll:
- Define the term “CC”
- Explain How CC Works
- Advice You on Best CC Etiquette
- Describe the difference between CC and BCC
Read on to learn how and when to use this practical, yet tricky email function.
What does CC mean in Email?
CC stands for “Carbon Copy” which in turn means an exact duplicate of a letter.
Where email is concerned, CCing someone sends them a duplicate of the email you’ve written. It is used commonly as a quick visual tool for which individuals should a) respond and b) stay in the loop.
There are many professional uses for the CC function. For example, you may need a reply from a coworker that directly impacts your responsibilities and want to keep your supervisor informed. Perhaps, you’re on the verge of signing on a potential client and need multiple teams to be aware of the upcoming new contract. Think of it like a better-regulated version of a “group text”.
We’ll cover more about CCing email etiquette below.
The physical process of making a carbon copy of mail was invented in 1806. You’ll still see them in use when receiving a receipt or sending a package in the mail.
Because of its widespread use, the original meaning naturally carried over to business email practices.
What does CC mean on social media?
This depends on the site. CC can stand either for “Closed Captions,” aka subtitles, or “Caption Credit” in scenarios where someone has helped the poster write a caption. Occasionally, social media users will also mark something as “CC Welcome.” In this case, CC stands for constructive criticism.
How to Use the CC Email Function
To CC someone on an email, simply add their address to the line marked CC:. This field is usually found under the line where you would add the direct recipient.
Quick Coders Quiz: Do you know which code makes CC operate in an email? Simple Mail Transporting Protocols (SMTP) tell a mail server to whom an email is being sent.
Will a CC email also send the attachment?
Yes, the recipient of a CCed email will also receive the attachment. If you want to send the content of your email to multiple people, but not the attachment you have two options:
- Learn your email system’s shortcuts for sending the attachment only to the people in the To: window.
- Encrypt your attachment.
When you CC someone, can they see previous emails?
Yes, all CCed recipients will see previous emails IF you are CCing someone on a pre-existing email thread (i.e. including a CC on a reply).
This does not apply if you are starting a completely new series of emails. In this case, you would want to forward or summarize previous correspondences.
Can the original recipient see and correspond with CCed individuals?
Yes, when they use the “Reply All” button all CCed individuals will receive the original recipient’s answer.
CC Emailing Etiquette
If you CCed everyone on all correspondences, then there really is no difference between adding them in the To: or CC: window. CCing, however, is still an important practice for letting people know what is expected of them in reference to an email.
It’s always best to also let the recipients know in the body of the email a) why someone has been CCed and b) if they should (not) respond. When adding large groups, adopt phrases such as “I’ve included the XYZ team” and “This email is being shared with the XYZ department.”
Here’s a short guide for when it is (not) appropriate to CC:
Do CC When:
- Introducing a Contact
- Keeping People in a Loop
- Handing Off a Task
- Adding Contacts to an Existing Thread
- Sharing Events & Updates
Don’t CC When:
- Passive Aggressively Adding a Supervisor
- Micromanaging a Project
- Sharing Contact Information Without Permission
- Emailing Outside of Your Company
In short, it is not professional to overuse the CC feature in email. This will feel overwhelming to your colleagues. If you feel like you’re always CCing, find another means of communication for following up on small and time-sensitive tasks.
Differences Between CC and BCC
There is one main difference between CCing and BCCing someone on an email thread.
Simply put, a BCC is a “blind carbon copy” that is sent to people without notifying the original and CCed recipients. When used appropriately, BCC’s protect the security and identities of their recipients. It is unethical to add a BCC because you are trying to keep their inclusion secret from others reading the email.
We’ve written more about the differences between CCs and BCCs and when each is appropriate here (coming soon).