Email CC: What does CC mean? Why & How Should We Use CC?

Understanding More About ‘CC’

Woman at sidewalk cafe reading emails
Find out how to effectively make use of the cc email button

The first email was sent in 1971 and it feels like we have been using CC (Carbon Copy) wrongly ever since. In this article, learn what it means, why we use it, and how we should use it, plus much more. Including how the Beatles, the Spice Girls, and Robin Thicke can help to get CC emails under control for your business.

What Does CC in Email Mean?

CC stands for ‘Carbon Copy’. It originates from when documents used to be copied using carbon paper. You wrote on a piece of paper with a carbon paper piece behind it, and then as you wrote, the same words were on the piece of paper below. Carbon paper was a thin paper coated with carbon or another pigmented substance. This was used for making a second impression of a document as it is being written or typed.

The other term used is ‘BCC’ which stands for ‘Blind Carbon Copy’. It means that the person is copied on an email, but the other people being sent the same email cannot see that they are being copied. It’s a little like speaking to a group of people who all hear the same words, whilst someone else listens in via a hidden microphone place there by the speaker and the blind listener.

Why Do You Use CC in Emails?

CC in emails is used to let someone else know the information. For example, you would email a client a confirmation of a sale by putting their email address into the ‘to’ field, and then you might out your logistics department’s email address in the ‘cc’ field to despatch the order.

When you cc someone can they see the previous emails?

Yes, they can.

Can Email Recipients See CC?

Yes, they cannot see BCC. Using BCC is often reserved for sharing with your boss a tricky customer communication, or sending an email to lots of people where you don’t want each one to see the other’s email address. This might be because of GDPR.

For example, you are exchanging emails with a difficult customer over a couple of days and you want your boss to know what the customer is saying, and how you are replying, just in case your boss has some guidance to help you.

What Happens if Someone Replies to a BCC?

Woman typing email on smartphone
It’s important to know whether you are replying to a CC or BCC


If the person that was BCC’d clicked ‘reply to all’, then the email will be sent to everyone in the ‘To’ and in the ‘CC’. It will appear as though the person BCC’d was replying, though they were never emailed the emails, and so the assumption will be that either that person was BCC’d, which is not good, or that the email was forwarded to them.

How Should We Use CC?

Our guide for using CC is to remember that the ‘to’ field is for action. When you email someone and put their name/email address in the ‘to’ field you want action. Normally, a reply. If you add someone in the ‘CC’ field then that is just for information.

  • To = Action
  • CC = Information

What Tools Can You Use to Reduce the Amount of CC in a Business?

We have 9 tools that will help you to use emails, and particularly CC’s, more effectively. From communication to effective communication.

Tool #1: One Less CC: Spice Girls

An average person receives 121 emails per day and sends 40 per day. They also copy 3-5 people using CC. Our first tool is the ‘Spice Girls’ tool. The latest Spice Girls tour still happened, even without Posh Spice. The band still went ahead, but not with the 5 members, only 4. Maybe you can reduce the number of people cc’d by just one – Posh Spice.

Tool #2: Say Why – The Beatles

In 1964 The Beatles released a song called ‘Tell Me Why’. When writing your email get into the habit of writing at the bottom of the body of the email, why you are cc’ing people. This is because by writing why you are cc’ing the person, you will either realise that you have a good reason and therefore will keep them in the CC. Or if you do not, then you’ll remove them from the CC field.

Tool #3: To and CC Fields – Blurred Lines

Robin Thicke sang ‘Blurred Lines’. This is our third tool. Be careful to use the ‘To’ and the ‘CC’ email fields appropriately. If you send an email to someone in the to, then you expect action. Most likely, a response. If you add someone into the CC field, then you are just giving them the information and you do not expect any reply or action.

Remember that the more emails you send, including people in the CC, the more chance of you receiving a reply.

Send more emails = Get more emails back.

Tool 4: Keep People Agendas

We can easily ‘over communicate’ with email – if in doubt I’ll copy my boss. There’s no harm. The problem is that our boss now has 7 emails from you that she has to read. Plus, if every one of their 6 reports does something similar, that’s an additional 42 emails to read that day – 210 for the week. On top of other incoming emails. The bigger picture is that we create an email culture. One that does not use communication effectively but instead defaults to ‘I’ll copy her in any way’.

Post it notes with Today's Agenda written on it
Keeping individual lists for people will help keep an agenda

The more effective communicator keeps a list for each person that they regularly communicate with, and adds to that list a short note of things to share. Then, once or twice a week they ‘catch-up’ in a 121, verbalising those notes. This avoids email becoming the default and what has become known as ‘ass covering’. Plus, the other person can choose to focus on one of the agenda items, to understand what they want to know.

Tool 5: Identify Excessive Emailing About a Topic

Identify when there is a stream of emails across the team about a similar topic. It might be a new customer or a new project. Instead of using emails as the communication route, put in place a short meeting where the communication can be two-way and a discussion from the relevant members of the team.

Tool 6: Agree on a Team Charter

The main questions that arise when people start to change their email habits are about how this will affect the people around them. The solution is to agree on a way forward as a team. A team charter. For example, a team meeting for 30-minutes would discuss and agree on a maximum of 7 Email Principles for them as a team. Those principles might be:

  1. No need to email back with thanks. I’ll assume you know. Unless it’s a huge piece of work, then, please do.
  2. Rarely use ‘Thanks’ – Instead, create a whiteboard where people can post their appreciation.
  3. Don’t copy me in on email about project xyz, and only copy those project members A, B, and C.
  4. If you want an urgent answer, please instant message me using Teams, text, Whatsapp, or a similar form of communication.
  5. Rarely use ‘Reply to All’.
  6. Have regular meetings to discuss emails for 20-minutes to keep the topic alive.
  7. Create at least one people agenda each, with a list of items to discuss, for a person that you email a lot.

Tool 7: Track Your Emails Sent and Read

Use Myanalytics, if you are a Microsft subscriber, to know how many emails you send and receive. By using MyAnalytics you will be able to understand:

  • Your Email habits:
    • How many emails do you send per month?
    • How many emails do you read per month?
  • Your Communication habits:
    • How often do you chat with people?
    • Who are your main collaborators?
  • Your Meeting Habits:
    • How often are you late for meetings?
    • How planned is your meeting schedule?

Tool 8: Unsubscribe

Simple, yet effective. How many lists, both internal and external, are we on, that we receive and just delete?

For external emails scroll to the bottom of the email and click ‘Unsubscribe’. Most companies offer this facility.

For internal emails reply with, ‘Please remove me from this distribution list’.

Tool 9: Cover Your Ass

Yes, sometimes there is a legitimate reason to have a ‘paper trail’. Particularly for legal communication, or compliance. Don’t let this be the excuse for covering your ass with excessive email communication. The reason for wanting to ‘cover your ass’ originates from one of three reasons:

  • Delegation: I have delegated something, but I am not really sure if they understood it.
  • Influencing: If this goes wrong, I need to show my boss that I sent the email asking someone to do something.
  • Trust: I don’t trust that they will do it, so I sent them an email.

Each of the CYA three reasons stems from a lacking of our soft skills.

Pile of papers to show paper trail
Sometimes it’s important to have a paper trail

Final Thoughts

As Barack Obama famously said:

If it is important, it will find me.

You don’t have to be stuck in your inbox to do your job. These habits have been developed over a long time, so you will need patience, enthusiasm, and support to change those behaviours.

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