Microsoft

Don't turn a blind eye to Outlook Bcc etiquette

Blind carbon copies aren't a thing of the past. Learn how and when to send Bcc messages using Outlook.

Outlook Bcc

When you generate an email, you decide who receives it by adding contacts to the To and Cc controls. There's also a third control called Bcc. Both the Cc and Bcc are throwbacks to carbon and blind carbon copies, respectively. You can use both in Outlook, but doing so effectively takes a bit of specialized knowledge.

What's a Bcc?

Carbon and blind carbon copies are throwbacks to pre-computer days when we used paper rather than screens to correspond. At the bottom of a letter, the typist would add a line prefaced with CC. Everyone following that tag received a carbon copy of the original letter. When adding the BCC line, the typist removed all carbon copies but one and returned the original and single copy to the typewriter and added the BCC line(s).The other CC copies didn't contain a BCC line; only the original sender and the blind copy recipient(s) knew that the blind copy was sent. It was a way of keeping individuals in the loop without alerting their presence in the discussion to everyone else.

Most people know when to use Outlook's Cc control. For instance, you might send an out-of-office notice to your boss and copy team or project members who might benefit from knowing that you won't be available.

You'll use Outlook's Bcc control differently. Use this control when you want to keep specific recipients hidden from the others. It sounds secretive, and it is, but that doesn't mean you won't have upright reasons for using it. For instance, you could use the Bcc control to keep a colleagues apprised of a project's status for internal purposes (such as cross-training and staffing purposes) without bothering the client with additional contacts.

Adding Bcc to an Outlook message

By default, the message window doesn't display the Bcc control, but it's easy to add. With the message window open, click the Options tab. Then, click Bcc in the Show Fields group, as shown in Figure A. In Outlook 2007, it's in the Fields group. In Outlook 2003, click Bcc Field on the View menu.

Figure A

Figure A

Add the Bcc control.

Once the Bcc control is displayed, simply add contacts to it as you would the To and Cc controls. To remove it, click Bcc in Show Fields.

The Bcc control is a toggle option. Once you add this line, it'll be available for all new messages until you click the option to disable it. You can add Bcc contacts on-the-fly by clicking the To or Cc control to launch the Select Names dialog, which offers a Bcc control. This way, you can enter the To, Cc, and Bcc contacts without enabling the Bcc control for future messages.

Who sees what?

Contacts in the To and Cc control won't see contacts entered into the Bcc control. However, the Bcc recipient sees everyone, except other Bcc contacts. The only person who can see Bcc recipients is the sender. If you open the message in your Sent folder, you'll see everyone you sent the message to, including the Bcc contacts.

Who gets what?

If you're a Bcc recipient, you needn't worry about additional unwanted email. When the To and Cc contacts respond to the message by clicking Reply To All, you won't be included. This behavior is another legitimate reason for using the Bcc control. You can share information with those who need it but who aren't interested in any follow-up discussion. You'll be saving them a bit of an Inbox mess by specifying them as a Bcc recipient.

The responsibility of being a Bcc

If you see that you're a Bcc recipient, give careful consideration before replying. If you click Reply To All, the To and Cc contacts will see your response. As a Bcc recipient, you or the sender might want to keep your participation quiet.

Be polite, use Bcc

In the electronic mail world, sharing contacts is bad etiquette. Using the Bcc control allows you to send one message to multiple contacts without sharing their contact information with one another. In my opinion, one of the best reasons to use Bcc is to keep recipient contact information private.

It's not a sure bet

For better or worse, the Bcc has become a spamming tool. As a result, some junk filters automatically flag incoming Bcc messages as junk. Your Bcc contact may never even see your message! You might want to make sure that you're on the Bcc recipient's Safe Senders list or equivalent. That way, the filter will route your message into the Inbox, as you intended.

Two snafus to avoid

Using Bcc for a distribution list is a legitimate use -- doing so helps you distribute information quickly while maintaining privacy for the recipients. However, rules used to sort incoming mail might fail to sort the message correctly. Your message might not be read in a timely manner, or at all. In addition, remember that contacts in the Bcc control count toward the maximum limit set by your service provider.

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About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

1 comments
TRgscratch
TRgscratch

I've used BCC in many email systems including Outlook.  The real problem is listed under "The responsibility" - ie, the 'blindly-copied' can Reply All, which leads to problems.  How about a switch that allows the sender to disable the Reply All capability of the blindly-copied

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