Engineering and Leadership - How to Write an Email - To, CC and BCC

Photo credit: lrargerich

Today’s instalment of my how to write an email series is going to focus on the stuff you do before you actually write the email. Specifically, I want to tackle the To, CC, and BCC  fields. You might think that this isn’t all that important compared to the actual content of the email, but fear not, naysayers – I promise you it is. In fact, I would argue that without nailing these first parts, the quality and candour of your masterfully crafted email will be lost the dark abyss of your company’s servers, never to be read by anyone you care about.

Allow me to explain.

Who the heck are you talking to?

You might not think about it, but its really important that you consider exactly who you’re sending your email to. It happens time and time again that I get “broadcast” emails that don’t really apply to me. At all. I’m sure you get the same at your school or office. It’s brutal. I think that this is a bigger problem than just one of inconvenience though. Consider this: let’s say you’re looking for input on a certain engineering design, and you email the whole team, no big deal, right? Well, yes and no. If you ask for everybody’s input, you had better be prepared to accept everyone’s input – even from the people who don’t really know what they’re talking about. People will assume you’re asking them directly, because you are. It’s impractical to try and integrate 20 people’s input to something – chose the few important people to communicate with and keep it tight. That also signals to those people that they specifically are being asked.

A Handy Guide to Email Fields

Here are the rules I tend to follow with respect to filling out the To, CC, BCC, and Subject Fields


I think the problem that most people run into with this field is that its stuffed with lots of names who shouldn’t really be there. The To field is reserved for the people who are being directly engaged by the email. People who you just want to keep “in the know” shouldn’t be here. They should be in the CC field, described below. This is important, because the people in the To field need to know that this message is for them specifically. I find that makes a huge difference in terms of getting the email read and getting a response.


CC Stands for Carbon Copy. This one is a bit more tricky than the To field. The people who belong in the CC field are those who you want to keep in the loop about what’s going on. If you really need somebody’s input on something, don’t put them in CC. They belong in the To field. You may be wondering “Why is this so important? Aren’t they still getting the email?”. Excellent question, young scholar. That’s true – they do get the email, but there’s a major problem. One problem is that if an email isn’t sent to someone directly, they may interpret that as meaning it’s not critical for them to read, and they’ll focus their attention on emails that are clearly in need of their attention because their name is in the To field. Many people actually set up their emails based on whether they were a main recipient or just copied.


BCC, or Blind Carbon Copy is to be used with caution. If a name is in Blind Carbon Copy, nobody else who gets the email will see that name. This field is normally used by administrators who want to send something out to a large number of people, but don’t want to broadcast the email addresses of those people for privacy reasons. In my opinion, you really shouldn’t ever use this feature to keep people in the dark as to who knows the details of a conversation. It’s kind of like recording a meeting without telling anyone and then playing it to someone else. There’s just something not right about that.

Closing Thoughts

We rely on email for almost everything we do at work. This is good and bad. It’s great in that it makes communication easy… but it may actually be too easy. We’re all inundated with email blasts every day. Buck the trend by being deliberate about who you’re sending your messages to. Everyone will thank you for it.

Like what you read? Get free updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest from the E&L Website. You'll also get enrolled in our 12-week e-mail based engineering leadership course for free!

Great! Just check your email for the next steps...

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This