When we send emails or memos (like that happens anymore), we are given choices of cc and bcc.  However, there is no instruction on how or why to use these.  Let me provide some guidance.

First these letters used to stand for something.  “cc” indicates a carbon copy; and “bcc” indicates a blind carbon copy.  The cc sends  a copy to someone to whom the letter is not addressed; the bcc does too.

Back in the days of typewriters, even before before photocopiers, in order to make a copy of a letter or memo, the person typing had to insert a piece of “carbon paper” between the original letter and another blank piece of paper.  The carbon paper (originally carbonic paper) was coated on one side with a layer of a loosely bound dry ink or pigmented coating, bound with wax.  The pressure of the typewriter letter striking the paper, transmitted the impression, not just to the original but also to the second or third piece of paper behind the original, through the carbon paper, thereby making a “carbon copy” of the original.

You can still see this carbon copy process in a few places, making handwritten receipts or bank deposits.  But it long ago lost its association with carbon.

So much for the origin of the name, but how and why do you use the cc and the bcc?

The cc should be used to keep other people informed on the correspondence.  Sometimes that means letting someone’s boss know what they are doing.  Or letting people who will have to act soon be aware of what is coming their way.

The bcc is great to quietly let others know what is going on without confusing the main participants in the communication.  For example, communications between the agency and the client can be kept simple and direct while using bcc to keep the media, creative and accounting folks aware of how a project is progressing.

And here’s a tip: To keep your contacts from being known, send a memo to yourself and bcc everyone.

Anyway you want to include people into your email correspondence, make sure you do it consciously.  Just hitting “Reply All” without thinking about it will get you nothing but trouble.

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