Proper Email Address Etiquette
To, Cc and Bcc: What’s the Difference?
Most people know what happens when they address mail TO: people when creating a new message.
However, they are less sure about the two other options: CC: (carbon copy) and BCC: (blind carbon copy).
Use To: For Private Messages
If you are sending the message to only one address then the TO: option should be used.
Use BCC: for Lists
If you are sending the message to multiple addresses then the BCC: option should be used so that each person sees only their own address.
Use CC: Only in Special Cases
The CC: option essentially works the same way as the TO: option. Everybody will see the addresses included there. The main difference is intent.
In most cases you'll use the CC: option when you want to keep someone in the loop but no action is required AND all parties know the address. See the example below.
Putting it into Practice
Use BCC: to Hide Address Lists
Blind Carbon Copy (BCC:) will hide the address list from all the recipients.
- Only the person's own address will appear.
- Some email programs place the phrase "undisclosed recipients" in the address field instead.
If your email program insists on at least one TO: address, enter your own. This will also let you see the sent message as your recipients do.
Use General Group Descriptions Instead
You may wish to indicate the general nature of the address list at the beginning of your message so that recipients have an idea of who the other recipients are (if necessary).
Using a generic phrase such as "forwarded to the production team" lets people know who has received the message without revealing names or address information.
Use CC: to Inform
Carbon Copy will reveal the address(es) listed but is used in place of the To: to indicate that the message is sent to those persons for information purposes only. It is not used when the other recipients may not know the address.
This sample message will illustrate the use and the effect of these various addressing options in a message:
TO: email@example.com CC: firstname.lastname@example.org BCC: email@example.com Subject: sales figures Last year sales increased by 15% and costs decreased 5%. Jim White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
In this example,
- all recipients will be aware of both John Doe and Mary Smith; but
- only Jim White (the sender) and Sam Jones (BCC:) are aware that Sam Jones received a copy of the message.
Individual Privacy in a Group Message
In a much more likely scenario where a large group is blind carbon copied you can appreciate the result — a message free of a long list of addresses and the preservation of individual privacy.
Creating and Maintaining Group Lists
When sending message to large groups of people on a frequent basis it is useful to set up a "group" address to save you the effort of selecting all the recipients each time you send a message to the group.
Create a Group List
Your email program will have the ability to do this using a "Group" function in the address book.
- Create a group for each category you need.
- Add or copy all the appropriate addresses into each group as appropriate.
- An address may appear in more than one group.
- A group may contain anywhere from one to dozens of addresses.
Dealing with Larger Groups
Because many ISPs restrict you to 50 or fewer addresses, you should probably seek another method for disseminating information to larger groups. There are several companies that provide these services:
- Islandnet.com provides the ability to set up mailing lists based upon their proprietary PEP free to their customers with a domain. Highly recommended.
- ConstantContact provides email marketing services and more.
- MailChimp provides a e-newsletter service.
BCC: the Group
Use the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC:) addressing option to select the group address when you want to send a message to the whole group.
Everyone will receive the message listed with that group address, yet no addresses will appear on each message except that of the sender and possibly each recipient only in their own message.
Use Opt-in not Opt-out
The way you set up your group lists makes a big difference. Opt-in is always preferable because it places the onus on the person to get onto your list. Don't assume that everyone wants to receive your latest joke or to know about your big sale on Friday. See Ethical Net Commerce for more about opt-in.
Many lists now ensure that a person really has opted-in by sending a confirming message in reply to any request to get onto their list. If no confirming reply is received the address is removed automatically from the list.
Allow for Unsubscribing
You should always provide some way for people to opt-out with each message. The most common is to reply to the message with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.
Avoid Unscrupulous List Owners
Keep in mind that unscrupulous list owners (spammers) also include a remove option in their messages.
- Most such requests are ignored (the best you can hope for).
- The rest are used to confirm your email address so they can sell it to other spammers (the worst scenario for your privacy).
- Unless you're certain the sender is legitimate, you're better not using any unsubscribe options.
This is where companies that specialize in group email can help (see Dealing with Larger Groups. Such legitimate companies can be trusted to deal with the removal of your email address from a list without compromising it.
Other Email Issues
When dealing with email there are some other issues that this site deals with in other locations.
- If you use Outlook or Outlook Express (an obsolete program) or compose your email messages with MS Word, you'll need to know that you may create an attachment called winmail.dat that is invisible to you, but creates problems for viewers not using Outlook or Outlook Express.
- Similarly, if you create email newsletters, you'll want to view the suggestions to create the best experience for your readers.
Updated: September 4, 2014