To, CC, BCC, What Do They All Mean?

by - 21 March 2022
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If you are sending out an email to multiple people, you may not necessarily want to put them all as the primary recipients of the message, depending on the context of the email. In this case, you may want to leverage the “cc” or “bcc” fields, but you’ve always wondered what they mean and what the difference is. After all, if you want to send an email to three people, you can put all three in the “to” field, right?

Well, technically, yes that’s correct, but there may be some situations where you want the email to be perceived by the recipients differently or where you may not want some recipients to know that others are receiving the message. It’s one of the elementary business IT tricks, and you have the option to use them in any email you’re composing in Outlook, the cloud version of Microsoft Office, Microsoft 365. Let’s take a look at what they mean and how they’re best used.

What Do To, CC, & BCC Mean?

In short, “to” is who the message is directed specifically to, “cc” stands for “carbon copy”, and “bcc” stands for “blind carbon copy”. This might sound a little odd, particularly for people who have no idea what a carbon copy originally was, but they are easy to understand.

When you send an email, the person or people that you intend the message to be for should be in the “to” field. Carbon copying is used to include people on the email that should be informed about the subject matter, but are not directly involved with the conversation. This is usually to “keep them in the loop”, and allows them to see each other and everyone else in the “to” or “cc” recipients.

The “bcc” field is for people whom you also want to “keep in the loop”, but do not want other recipients to be able to see listed. This is common in large mailing or distribution lists where recipients may not know each other, or in other situations where you want to protect their privacy. It is also common in business scenarios where one party includes the superior of another party in the conversation without explicitly listing them as a recipient, essentially a “snitching” or “tattling” scenario. Those being blind carbon-copied will not receive any “reply all” follow-up emails.

An Example

As an example, we’ll take a look at these fictitious email recipients and how they would each see each other, as well as the other recipients on the message.

To: Hank

Cc: Rusty

Bcc: Buck, Peggy

In this email, the message itself is directly addressed to Hank, who can see that Rusty is carbon-copied. Rusty can see that he’s carbon-copied and that Hank is the primary recipient. Buck and Peggy, on the other hand, can each see they have been blind carbon-copied on a message to Hank, that Rusty is carbon-copied on. Buck and Peggy cannot see each other, however, and neither Hank nor Rusty can see them as recipients either.

Now You Know What They All Mean

If you’ve always wondered what those abbreviations mean when you’re composing another email, now you know. What’s more, is that now you also know how to effectively use and implement them to align with your communication needs, whether business or personal. Just be sure that you keep in mind some of the limitations of the addressing, and who can and cannot see whom, as well as who will be eventually left “out of the loop” if someone chooses to “reply all” at some point.