Better Emails: Using the Reply All and who to CC

I recently “replied all” to an email conversation where I noticed a person significant to the conversation was in the CC field.

When I replied, I moved her to the TO field.

Is this a big deal?

Actually, it is.  And I just figured out how to describe it better:

Imagine there are three people standing around talking.  If two people are talking, and one is just kind of listening and not really relevant to the conversation (but it’s nice for her to know what’s going on, and a trusted “ear” in that meeting), it’s okay for the two main people to not really look at her as they talk.

Imagine, though, they start to ask her questions, and draw her into the conversation… Imagine they do that WITHOUT LOOKING AT HER.   In this setting, it seems bad etiquette to ask someone a question and not look at them (looking intently at someone else).

That’s the difference between the TO field and the CC field.

Use TO when you are including that person in the conversation, and want them to give input and feedback and be involved.

Use CC when you don’t expect them to respond, or communicate… but you want to include them in the loop just so they know what’s going on.


Let’s go back to the example:

I’m talking with Joe for a few minutes, and then it’s evident that Sally should be in on the conversation.  We haven’t looked at her, but now that we bring her in, we both look at her, and the eye contact is split amongst the three of us.

That’s the difference between TO and CC.

I see this mistake ALL THE TIME.

What do you think?  Valid analogy?

More on writing better emails at my Effective Email Communication

5 thoughts on “Better Emails: Using the Reply All and who to CC”

  1. I think you hit it right on with this, Jason. Unfortunately. I think it goes back to educating people on the correct way to do it. I don’t recall anyone sitting me down and saying this is the best/correct way to include this person in this type of situation. I think a lot of people get it wrong through no fault of their own. Many people figure it out or at least learn from others mistakes, and while they don’t always get it right they do most of the time.

    In non-electronic written communication the only time someone is cc’d is if they need to receive a copy of the letter. The principles don’t necessarily translate to electronic forms.

  2. Thanks Brad. I agree… I don’t ever remember anyone sitting me down and teaching me this stuff… my hope is that job seekers (especially) and anyone who reads my blog will become incrementally better at this (and whatever else I blog about :p).

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