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I've noticed some of my colleagues seem to deliberately split up email recipients — some are in the "To" field and some are in the "CC" field. Is this a social cue whereby those CC'd aren't necessarily expected to reply?

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    Other than etiquette, some teams have a policy of how they want to do this (ask if you're not sure). See also - workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/1421/… – Brandin Sep 18 '15 at 10:43
  • Some email systems place a limit on the number of recipients who can be listed in each field, so if there are too many for "To", they may be forced to spill over into "CC". This is (thankfully) becoming rarer. – Andrew Leach Sep 18 '15 at 13:24
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To: The To field is for people that the message directly affects, and that you require action from. If you expecting someone to do something, they should be in the To field.

Cc: The Cc (or carbon copy) field is for people you want to know about the message, but are not directly involved. It's mainly for people that do not need to act or reply to the message, but to keep them informed.

Bcc: Finally, the Bcc field (Blind Carbon Copy) is used when you want other people to receive the message, but you don't want the other recipients to know they got it.

So, when people get an e-mail, they'll also see all the people in the To and Cc lines - but not Bcc.

(Source)

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    I also use BCC: for folks that I want to know that I sent the message, but that I don't want to get spammed by the other people on the thread hitting "Reply-All". For example, my boss asks me to contact some folks and start a conversation about topic X - she goes on the BCC line because all she needs to know is that it happened. I will summarize the conversation for her later. – ColleenV Sep 18 '15 at 12:08
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    @ColleenV I used to do that, but I got tired of people replying all from a BCC (which you should never do, unless you want to really annoy the sender). So now I just forward the email to them so if they reply-all it's got the "forward" included. – enderland Sep 18 '15 at 13:22
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    Generally I use BCC if the BCCed recipient wouldn't want it generally known they're copied in, and fwd (perhaps with a remark to the effect) if I don't want it generally known they're copied in. Then it doesn't bother me if someone does "reply-all" to a BCC, they've uncloaked themself. Relying on someone to closely examine email headers in order to keep my secrets is not great tactics. But if they themselves send an email revealing that they received the first email, that's their call and won't annoy me at all. – Steve Jessop Sep 18 '15 at 14:07
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    Just to add another BCC point... You can use it to disable Reply All. For instance, when we send out a message to a large group (like a whole department) that is just informational, then ALL recipients are on BCC, and the sender will put themselves in the To field. That way, there's no one to "Reply All" to other than the sender. It can also be used to terminate an email discussion that has gone on too long. Reply and put everyone in the BCC, so they can't easily reply back. – JPhi1618 Sep 18 '15 at 14:42
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    @JPhi1618 I have had many vendors leak information to other clients (aka my competitors) do this. And by many, I mean over a dozen in three years. I'm constantly amazed at how casual folks are with privacy. Of course, I notify each one yada yada, but it's amazing that in 2015 that isn't standard practice in the business world. – corsiKa Sep 18 '15 at 23:40
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I would like to add one additional idea: anybody you mention in the email goes into the CC field. For example, say your boss asks you to find something out, and you did so by talking to a colleague. If you write "Jim told me that...", you should CC Jim, so he isn't surprised when your boss contacts him with follow-up questions. This is a follow-on to the rule "don't talk behind someone's back".

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    Unless of course you are planning a surprise baby shower for Jane or some such thing. – HLGEM Sep 18 '15 at 16:58
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Whoever is expected to take action on the email is in "To", for whoever the email is just information is in "CC". "BCC" hides the recipients from the view of others (to be used with care).

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Outside of the "social cues" already mentioned, the usage may also depend on the email client or mail system.

In some email clients, if you use Reply all, it will use To: for the person who originally sent you the email message, and automatically fill the CC: fields with all the other users who received that original email (whether or not they started as To or CC).

And, as mentioned in the comments by Andrew Leach: "Some email systems place a limit on the number of recipients who can be listed in each field, so if there are too many for To, they may be forced to spill over into CC."

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BCC is helpful if you're emailing a large group of people and don't want the recipients to start using reply-all, because this can get annoying, or you want to respect people's privacy by not sharing email addresses. In this case, you'd put your email address in the To field, and everyone else in the BCC - so basically it looks like you're emailing yourself.

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I consider the use of BCC to be inappropriate in all cases, and would prefer email clients with no BCC option. I have never and will never use BCC, and in my travels most senior management carry the same opinion.

Often information is discussed in email that is not for everyone's eyes, such as salaries, performance, strategic planning, plant closures, etc. After a chain of freely discussed emails, were someone to BCC a person not ordinarily copied, the normal recipients have no idea this information is being shared.

Having said that, anyone in receipt of such information is presumably of appropriate pay grade to know the difference and not share inappropriately.

I think it's fairly rare to see BCC used in a business setting, and I think most senior management view it as a deceitful practice. What I have done instead on occasion is to send the email directly "To" this extraneous person and either "To" or "CC" the information owner, with a bottom note that I am sharing and why.

Consider that if you use BCC, you are generally doing so in order to hide the fact from the ordinary recipients. With the exception of ColleenV and perhaps a few others here who have pure intent, do you really want to have to explain a month or two later why you shared something and hid that from the other recipients?

That's my frank $0.02.

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    What you describe would not be helped by removing the Blind Carbon Copy feature, which arguably (as indicated by other answerers and commenters) is highly useful in certain situations. A recipient (or sender) could still send the email normally, then either forward it manually or copy and paste the contents into a new email and send that to a different recipient. Particularly the latter would be very hard to fully prevent technologically. Trying to apply technological solutions to people problems rarely ends well; in many cases it ends up frustrating the people and not solving the problem. – a CVn Sep 18 '15 at 19:50
  • "After a chain of freely discussed emails [...]": your problem seems to be with the unexpected consequences of bcc/fwd caused by thoughtless top posting (where a copy of the entire thread ends up being at the bottom of the message), rather than with bcc. – Nemo Sep 18 '15 at 22:14
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    In some cases, using BCC is the ONLY appropriate option. For example, if you send a message to a group of people who do not know each other, and you don't use BCC, you have just shared those people's personal email addresses with a bunch of strangers, and THAT is inappropriate. Email forwards which accumulate lots of CCed users can also be harvested for spamming and scamming purposes. – barbecue Sep 19 '15 at 0:52
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    I consider the use of BCC to be inappropriate in all cases. - I disagree. One case where I see BCC used properly is when someone sends an official email to someone outside of the company, speaking on behalf of the entire company (this usually is in the form of sending a contract or negotiating). The sender may want to let other people inside the company know what was said or what steps were taken, but there is no reason to let the recipient from outside of the company know this, or even expose other employees email addresses to the outside recipient. – IQAndreas Sep 19 '15 at 8:18
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    If someone emails me with a request and CC's their (or my) management, it appears to be pulling rank: "Hey, I'm asking you, but management's aware of the request now and is going to hold you accountable!" Similarly if an answer to a request (that did not have management CC'd) comes back with management CC'd. It's an important use case: keep my management informed of something I want them to be aware of, but not to appear to be escalating something or pulling rank. – Wayne Sep 19 '15 at 18:26

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