In May I received an email from an institute I had applied to for a place to pursue further studies.
Receiving the email was a delight because it was reminding me to complete my application. I was, however, taken aback to see my email address among many other email addresses to whom that email had been sent. No recipient of that email should have seen email addresses of the other recipients.
For every composed email there are three address bars that the sender can populate with email addresses of the intended recipients of the email. These are: To, Cc, and Bcc.
What was done in the scenario I shared above is that all email addresses were entered in the "To" address bar. As a result, for over two months, whenever any of the recipients wrote back replying to all, I too received a copy of their email.
What the sender of that email did goes against the etiquette for email communication because besides the inconvenience of receiving emails not addressed to me, they did not have my permission to share my email address with anyone.
Whenever you have an email intended for more than one recipient, it is important that you clearly identify which email you should add to which receiver address bar.
The "To" address bar
This is where you enter email addresses of the people to whom the email is directly addressed. These are people you are writing to asking them to do something. It is okay to have multiple email addresses in this area but these addresses must be of people who need to know what any of the recipients writes in response to all.
Generally speaking, you do not need permission to add one's official email address to a list of emails in this address bar. However, it is good etiquette to seek a person's permission before you add their personal email address because you will, through any sent email, reveal their personal contact to all recipients.
The "Cc" address bar
The "Cc" (from carbon copy) address bar is where you add email addresses of people you are not addressing yourself directly but you, nonetheless, want to receive a copy of the email.
These are people you do not require to respond or take any action in relation to the information contained in the email but you consider it important that they know that you have written to your "To" recipients often for quality control or supervision.
For example, when sending out an email ordering goods on behalf of an organisation, it is good practice to always copy in the person in the finance department who will be processing the supplier's payment.
The "Bcc" address bar
Bcc (from blind copy) can contain email addresses of people to whom the email is directly addressed or people who need to be aware of the correspondence between the sender of the email and its recipients without any of the recipient's knowledge.
A special feature about Bcc is that no one among those included in the Bcc can see any of the other email recipients whose email addresses you include in the Bcc bar. And all recipients can only reply to the sender and those in Cc (if any). This is the address bar that should have been used by the institute official who wrote to us in May.
Note: The etiquette guidelines above do not apply only to those who initiate emails. As long as you are sending out an email, even if it is in response to a received email, you must always check and ensure that each recipient's email address is in the right address bar.
The author is a communications expert