By default, you will typically send email messages using the standard "To" field for recipients, the easiest way to add email addresses to an email you are about to send. But all modern email programs and webmail clients (online email service like Hotmail, Yahoo Mail, or Gmail), let you take advantage of the "Cc" field (Carbon Copy) and "Bcc" field (Blind Carbon Copy). So, which should you use when, and what is the difference between Cc and Bcc? This tutorial will clarify all that. This email tutorial goes beyond the purely technical, and includes a few "social" pointers of the pros and cons of using carbon copy, blind or not, in some common situations, with a brief allusion to accepted usage (Email etiquette: when to use To, Cc, or Bcc recipients?)
Just like business correspondence, from which the term was borrowed, any email message has a primary recipient, which is the email address you enter inside the To field (and as previously explained, you can send an email to multiple recipients). Any person who should be "kept in the loop", informed about emails you send without being the primary intended audience, will have their email address entered as Cc, and they'll be carbon copied on the content of the message on an "FYI" (for your information) basis.
Unless you want to address the group of recipients as a whole, you generally do not need to reply to a message in which you were "cc'd". Another exception, which we'll cover in more depth in our email etiquette tutorials, is to reply to the email sender only to confirm reception of the message (don't click "Reply to All" to involve ("disturb"!) everyone). However, we recommend against that, since it is assumed that you will receive email messages that included your email address inside the To, Cc, or Bcc destination fields.
Note: even tech savvy users who know how to check email headers of a message will not be able to tell that you were included. Unlike regular messages, these "Bcc" emails are delivered individually, without embedded tracking information. The only persons aware of blind-carbon-copied emails are those who receive it, the person who sent it, and anyone from these groups who shared that information.
The blind carbon copy field can be perceived as either sneaky, or tactful - so use it judiciously! When reprimanding a subaltern, it is gracious to include your own boss, if he/she needs to be involved or kept informed, by including his or her email address in a "hidden" way (Bcc). This tells your boss that you have done your job and addressed a particular problem, without stressing out the employee who might otherwise see the top dog's email address. Besides, bosses usually like to stay officially out of "small time" issues until and unless it becomes unavoidable to be involved. This is a tactful use of the Bcc field.
Another use of the blind carbon copy field is to hide the fact that you are including some recipients inside an email to others - typical example being to Bcc an attorney, although courts now accept email timestamps (etc.) as proof of correspondence. The only difference with the former case is in the email recipient's perception - since facts are usually what people perceive a situation to be, you should trade with care when using the blind carbon copy field.
Caution: if a person is included as a Bcc recipient in an email message, and other people were included that email message as well, and that person chooses "Reply to All", not realizing that they were "secretly" included in that email, they will unintentionally blow their cover, and your attempt at discretely including them in the conversation!
Even if most email programs (Windows Live Mail, Mac Mail...) and webmail clients (Hotmail, Gmail...) automatically save all sent email messages, we find useful to automatically include ourselves as Bcc recipient in all (important) email exchange: this allows you to file into the same email folder or label / filter, related emails. Since you cannot indefinitely store a copy of all emails you send, you will not have a copy of a question you sent that remained unanswered, unless you included yourself in that email message.