When to use TO, CC, BCC in an email or Mail Merge instead.
Those three email fields not only act differently but, these days, which one you use can make a difference to whether the message will be delivered.
There are many different mail filtering and prioritizing systems that check incoming messages. Your choice of TO, CC or BCC can make the difference between your message being seen or overlooked.
There are also privacy issues to consider. A list of customers could reach a competitor. Some viruses ‘farm’ addresses from received emails to send out more infected messages or copy the addresses to spammers.
It’s polite and considerate to keep email addresses as private as possible. Do that using the BCC field or Mail Merge.
This article is inspired by a reader’s complaint about emails received from some businesses and friends. These ‘bulk’ messages to many people put all the recipients email addresses into the CC or worse TO field.
You can add email recipients by pressing the To … , Cc … or BCC … buttons.
Then you can select from Outlook contact lists.
But most of us don’t bother with that. We type into the text field and let Outlook figure it out.
Type in a name and press Alt + K, Outlook will try to resolve what you’ve typed from Outlook Contacts. If it can’t find a single match, it will show its best guesses. Otherwise ‘No Suggestions’.
Click on ‘Show More Names’ to see the full Contact list/s.
Outlook Autocomplete is separate from the Contacts list. It’s a list of previously used email addresses which may not be in the Contacts list or even deleted/changed in Contacts. See AutoComplete In Outlook – Complete.
This is for the primary recipients of a message. In other words, the people that the message is directly intended for.
Any email listed in the TO field is visible to anyone who gets the message.
The presence of the receiver’s email address in the TO field is one way that spam filters and mail priority systems use to figure out if the message is wanted or important.
- TO and CC recipients are visible to receivers.
- Any BCC recipients are NOT visible to receivers.
It’s a good idea to put at least one address in the TO field, even if all the recipients are in the BCC field. Though it’s rare these days, some mail systems can misbehave when there’s no TO address. The workaround is to put your own (senders) address in the TO field.
Aka ‘Carbon Copy’ (I won’t try to explain ‘carbon’ copies to younger readers … <g>).
Technically, there’s little difference between TO and CC. Addresses in either field get the message and all addresses in the CC field are also visible to anyone who gets the message.
Putting an address in CC could mean the receiver doesn’t immediately see the message, because a mail filtering system won’t highlight/prioritize when the recipients address is in the CC field, instead of TO.
- TO and CC recipients are visible
- Any BCC recipients are NOT visible.
The common mistake is putting email addresses in the CC field instead of BCC. Mostly that’s just annoying to people who don’t want their email address visible to strangers. But it can have tragic consequences, as when a clinic in the UK accidently ‘outed’ patients with HIV.
Aka ‘Blind Carbon Copy’ is added from Options | Show Fields.
Anyone in the BCC line gets a copy of the message.
- TO and CC recipients are visible
- TO and CC recipients do NOT know who gets a BCC of the message
- Other BCC recipients are NOT visible.
BCC is often used to send out a mass mailing quickly. Make the email message with a single TO address (which can be the sender) then fill the BCC with all the people you want to get the message.
Because the recipients email address isn’t in the TO or CC fields, a BCC’d email can look bad to anti-spam software. It’s certainly a factor when ‘scoring’ a message to decide if it’s spam or not.
Another use for BCC is to keep private the email addresses of people who want their email address to be kept private. You can TO or CC your friends (who might know each other) but BCC others who wish for greater privacy.
The better alternative to a mass BCC is Mail Merge. Outlook and Word combine to send out individual emails to each of an address list.
Normally mail merges start from Word but there’s a good reason to start from Outlook when using Outlook Contacts as the source.
From Word, you can import an Outlook contacts list, but it’s hard to filter that list.
But if you start the mail merge from Outlook (Home | Mail Merge) you can filter the list to exactly what you need (eg by Category). Or simple select some contacts from a larger list then choose ‘Only selected contacts’.
To use an Outlook Contact List as the source, start the merge from Outlook. In a Contact view choose Home | Mail Merge.
For more details on Mail Merge to email check out
Clever Outlook Contacts which has an entire chapter on Mail Merge including merges to email.
Access Archon: Working with Word – if your source is an Access database.