The Expectations of `cc`

When you “cc” someone on an email, what are the expectations?

The least you can do, is nothing. You just add additional recipients to the email, and expect them to understand what you meant by adding them to the thread. Depending on the group dynamics, different things can happen. If I’m your boss and I do that, you might be a little confused or annoyed, but the expectation might be that you read the thread and try to understand how you fit in. If a random stranger cc’s me on an email, I might be so unmotivated and unincentivized to guess what you are doing that I just archive it.

It’s more common to see a short inclusive statement. “Adding Bob and Julie to this thread!” a party-planning email thread might include when some other form of communication has confirmed that indeed, Bob and Julie can attend the party. That might not add any clarity, but at least it’s acknowledged.

If you’re going for complete clarity you might either:

  1. Include text in the email that acknowledges any new people cc’d, why, and what your expectations for them are.
  2. If that is awkward or distracting, cc them, but use another communication channel to do those same things. (“Julie, I cc’d you on the email thread about the party. Nothing for you to do there, I just wanted you to have the list of addresses in there in case you need them for the labels.)

I’d shoot for clarity no matter what, but I admit it’s a weak point for me to assume people know what I mean when I cc them (or forward things for that matter).

And another thing! Is there any implied difference for when you actually use the cc function of email, or when you just include them as a new recipient in the to field? My gut says people don’t even notice generally, an email in the inbox is an email in the inbox.

3 Comments

  1. What gets me is when I cc someone in a reply so that they can follow the conversation, and then the original sender replies back to me, but has for some reason (probably unknowingly) stripped out the cc’s I just added 😜

    1. Ugh yeah that’s annoying. It can be quite rude too really. For example, I might cc in my wife on a conversation with our accountants or something, and then they’ll strip her in the reply, which can feel like they are intentionally ignoring her.

      I wonder if this is a reason we should use people we’re adding to a conversation as additional recipients rather than cc, so that when they hit the reply button maybe it goes to everyone and not just the last person to send? We’d have to check how popular email clients handle that.

  2. > My gut says people don’t even notice generally, an email in the inbox is an email in the inbox.

    That’s why Apple Mail let you add labels like [to me], [copy]

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