Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Proper Email Address Etiquette

TO: CC: and BCC: | Putting it into Practice | Group Lists
Respecting Privacy | Other Email Issues

Addressing email by using To, CC and BCC correctly.

Few things are as irritating as receiving a message only to find that your email address is listed along with email addresses for people you don't know.

Not only is this poor etiquette, but it also invites misuse by any of the recipients or anyone they might forward the message to, threatening your privacy.

To, Cc and Bcc: What’s the Difference?

Most people know what happens when they address mail TO: people when creating a new message.

However, they are less sure about the two other options: CC: (carbon copy) and BCC: (blind carbon copy).

Use To: For Private Messages

If you are sending the message to only one address then the TO: option should be used.

Use BCC: for Lists

If you are sending the message to multiple addresses then the BCC: option should be used so that each person sees only their own address.

Use CC: Only in Special Cases

The CC: option essentially works the same way as the TO: option. Everybody will see the addresses included there. The main difference is intent.

In most cases you'll use the CC: option when you want to keep someone in the loop but no action is required AND all parties know the address. See the example below.

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Putting it into Practice

Use BCC: to Hide Address Lists

Blind Carbon Copy (BCC:) will hide the address list from all the recipients.

  • Only the person's own address will appear.
  • Some email programs place the phrase "undisclosed recipients" in the address field instead.

If your email program insists on at least one TO: address, enter your own. This will also let you see the sent message as your recipients do.

Use General Group Descriptions Instead

You may wish to indicate the general nature of the address list at the beginning of your message so that recipients have an idea of who the other recipients are (if necessary).

Using a generic phrase such as "forwarded to the production team" lets people know who has received the message without revealing names or address information.

Use CC: to Inform

Carbon Copy will reveal the address(es) listed but is used in place of the To: to indicate that the message is sent to those persons for information purposes only. It is not used when the other recipients may not know the address.

An Example

This sample message will illustrate the use and the effect of these various addressing options in a message:

TO: John Doe, General Manager <>
CC: Mary Smith, Division Manager <>
BCC: Sam Jones, CEO <>

Subject: sales figures

Last year sales increased by 15% and costs decreased 5%.

Jim White, Sales Manager <>

In this example,

  • all recipients will be aware of both John Doe and Mary Smith; but
  • only Jim White (the sender) and Sam Jones (BCC:) are aware that Sam Jones received a copy of the message.

Individual Privacy in a Group Message

In a much more likely scenario where a large group is blind carbon copied you can appreciate the result — a message free of a long list of addresses and the preservation of individual privacy.

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Creating and Maintaining Group Lists

When sending message to large groups of people on a frequent basis it is useful to set up a "group" address to save you the effort of selecting all the recipients each time you send a message to the group.

Create a Group List

Your email program will have the ability to do this using a "Group" function in the address book.

  • Create a group for each category you need.
  • Add or copy all the appropriate addresses into each group as appropriate.
  • An address may appear in more than one group.
  • A group may contain anywhere from one to dozens of addresses.

Dealing with Larger Groups

Because many ISPs restrict you to 50 or fewer addresses, you should probably seek another method for disseminating information to larger groups. There are several companies that provide these services:

If you prefer to use your own domain for lists and need help, is a local hosting company with a lot of expertise. They've been around (as since the late 1990s. Highly recommended.

BCC: the Group

Use the Blind Carbon Copy (BCC:) addressing option to select the group address when you want to send a message to the whole group.

Everyone will receive the message listed with that group address, yet no addresses will appear on each message except that of the sender and possibly each recipient only in their own message.

Don't Add People Without Permission

The way you add subscribers to your list makes a big difference.

Not everyone wants to receive your latest joke or to know about your big sale on Friday. Limit the number and frequency of your posts.

Let People Opt-IN

Use opt-in not opt-out. Opt-in is more ethical because it places the onus on a potential subscriber to get onto your list.

Many lists now ensure that a person really has opted-in by sending a confirming message in reply to any request to get onto their list. If no confirming reply is received the address is removed automatically from the list.

Allow for Unsubscribing

You should always provide some way for people to opt-out with each message. The most common is to reply to the message with UNSUBSCRIBE in the subject line.

Don't Unsubscribe from Spam

Unscrupulous list owners (spammers) may also include an unsubscribe option in their messages.

Unless you're certain the sender is legitimate, you're better not using any unsubscribe options.

Using the unsubscribe option merely confirms your email address, making it more valuable when sold to other spammers.

Increase Trust in Your List

This is where companies that specialize in group email can help. These legitimate companies can be trusted to deal with the removal of your email address from a list without compromising your privacy.

Business Communications

Using email for business is critical and you want to do it right.

Avoid sarcasm or witty remarks. It is easier to offend someone via email than in person because the lack of your tone of voice and facial expressions mean your humour can be misunderstood.


Respecting Privacy

Privacy of Email Addresses

When people provide you with their email address — either directly or by sending you a message — there is the implicit expectation that you will not reveal it to others without their permission.

What's the Big Deal?

Just as you wouldn't appreciate your place of employment giving out personal contact information, many people feel the same way about their email address.

Privacy and Spam

In fact, privacy has become a serious issue on the Internet and this concern will continue to grow as people realize the commercial value of their private information and as they fight a losing battle against spam (unsolicited and unwanted emails).

Labelled as a Spammer?

Spam is an issue of consent, not content.

Be sure the person you're sending to has a reason to expect your messages or they're likely to treat your message as spam.

Some jurisdictions have severe penalties for senders of unsolicited mail.

You should also be sure that each person will find your mail appropriate, and not a waste of their time.

Spam is Out of Control

The volume of spam has become so large compared to legitimate mail that it threatened the future of email. We spend up to 80 percent of our Internet bills to pay for spam!

There is more information about this issue on spam: unsolicited emails and mailing lists.

Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation

If you're in Canada (or doing business in Canada) you need to comply with Canada's Anti-Spam Legislation.

It requires informed consent.

Understand the difference between implied and express consent. More here…


Businesses that collect personal information are also required to meet the requirements of other federal and provincial privacy legislation including PIPEDA and BC's PIPA.

Canada's previous attempts at privacy legislation were flawed.

We still have no working privacy laws that take into account the changes that came with a digital world.

We need to Demand Privacy.

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Other Email Issues

Email issues are dealt with elsewhere on this site.

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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Updated: February 26, 2022