Email To & CC Etiquette 6 Rules: How To Carbon Copy Best

The crucial email To & CC etiquette rules to properly manage the recipients’ addresses of your emails. How to use the carbon copy (CC) correctly.

What email To & CC etiquette is

Email To & CC etiquette is the set of rules to properly manage the recipients’ addresses in your emails. It includes:

  • How to appropriately use the To & CC.
  • When to use carbon copy.
  • The mistakes to avoid.

When you send an email, follow the To & CC etiquette rules to manage the recipients in the appropriate ways.

how to use email to & carbon copy (CC)

Email To & CC etiquette rules

1) Limit the number of recipients

When sending an email, limiting the number of recipients is most appropriate. Include only people that must receive the information in your email. Remove anybody that is not necessary.

Emails with multiple recipients tend to be less effective. A long list of recipients makes it unclear who should take action.

2) Appropriate use of To vs. CC

Carbon copy (CC) is to allow recipients to follow a conversation, even if they are not directly participating in it.

In general, if you do not need action from someone, place their address in CC. Place in “To” anyone who should take action consequently to your email.

3) Organize email recipients in the appropriate order

When writing an email to multiple people, it is polite to organize the recipients in the To and CC fields. While you do not need to overthink it, it is impolite to add recipients randomly. You can choose any method to order the recipients, as long as it is objective and recognizable by the recipients. For example:

  • Seniority. Add senior recipients first, then the junior ones.
  • By team.
  • Alphabetical. From A to Z, either last name or first name.
  • A combination of the options above.   

Some people pay special attention to form and may get offended if you do not follow an appropriate order.

4) When replying, reply all or move to BCC

When replying to an email with multiple recipients, you need to reply to all. Otherwise, you risk removing some people from the email thread and offending them.

It is not necessary to reallocate the recipients in To and CC. If some recipients are no longer needed in the email thread, you can move them to BCC.

5) If you are in CC, wait before replying

If you are in CC in an email, you should assume that you are not directly involved in the email thread. In other words, you should be aware of the discussion, but you are not expected to take part in it.

The best etiquette is to allow recipients in “To” to respond first. Jump in if the discussion takes an undesirable direction or when someone calls you out.

6) How to add people in CC in an ongoing thread

When adding someone in CC during an ongoing email thread, it is polite to announce it. In the first sentence of the email, state who you are adding in CC and why. For example, “Adding Jane from legal in CC for visibility”. Do not add someone to CC without letting the other recipients know.

In any case, try t avoid escalations. The other recipients may get defensive when someone is suddenly added to the conversation. Thus, be tactful. If you can avoid it, do not add other recipients’ managers in CC.

email to & CC etiquette mistakes

Email To & CC etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. Read more about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst email To & CC etiquette mistakes: 

  • 8/10. Adding someone to CC without notifying the other recipients.
  • 7/10. Adding recipients in random order.
  • 6/10. Confusing the purpose of To and CC.
  • 3/10. Sending an email to too many recipients.