Email Tips: What Do cc: and bcc: Mean?

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It’s recently come to my attention that people who have never worked in an office environment often don’t know what the “cc:” and “bcc:” designations are for in their email program. If you already know, feel free to skip this one. Otherwise, onward!


Whether on a business letter, memo, or in an email, “cc:” and “bcc:” are used to “copy” (or, “send a copy to”) people other than the primary recipient of the message. This can be a very useful feature for those times when you’re writing a message to a specific individual, but need to keep others in the loop.

The “cc:” one stands for “carbon copy”, and the names and/or email addresses of people who are copied via cc: will be visible to everyone else who’s getting a copy of the message, including the primary recipient.

The “bcc:” one stands for “blind carbon copy”, and this designation not only hides the names and email addresses of people who are being copied from everyone except the sender, it also hides the fact that anyone other than the primary recipient is being copied at all.

The two types of copying can be used individually or together. When you’re done composing your message and have entered the name/email address of the primary recipient, click or tap on the “cc:” designation in your email program to add carbon copy recipients and click or tap on the “bcc:” designation to add blind carbon copy recipients, then send your email as you normally would.

Bear in mind: anyone who hits “reply all” to your message will be replying not only to you, but to everyone on the cc: and bcc: lists as well.

Some Real Life Examples

1. You want to copy several people on your message, but one or more of them don’t want their email addresses to be revealed to others on the distribution list for the message.

In this case you would cc: all the people who are to be copied and DON’T care if everyone else sees their email address, and bcc: those who want their email addresses hidden from the group.

2. You’re fishing for birthday gift ideas from your brother, and others in the family need ideas, too.

You could use cc: or bcc:, it just depends on whether or not you’re okay with your brother knowing all the relatives are getting his reply in addition to yourself.

3. You’re involved in a dispute with a neighbor over property lines and you’re trying to create a paper trail in case things escalate to a legal proceeding, but don’t want your neighbor to know you’ve already retained an attorney.

Here, you’d probably want to cc: any city or county employees with whom you’ve been in contact about the dispute, but bcc: your attorney.

You get the idea. cc: and bcc: can be very useful tools, but remember: as I’ve always warned, there’s no such thing as online privacy, so don’t assume a blind copy recipient’s identity or email address can NEVER be revealed. While it won’t happen in the normal course of typical email use, software bugs, viruses, hacks and equipment failures can result in exposure of sensitive data you thought would never be seen by anyone but the people you wanted to see it, and that includes emails.

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