When to Use Reply, Reply All, CC, and BCC

Does your mouse hover over the Reply All button 30 seconds longer than it should? Do you cringe when you’re added to a never-ending email thread you shouldn't have been included on in the first place? Do you cry a single tear of joy when someone appropriately BCCs you?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above scenarios, you know the importance of Reply, Reply All, CC, and BCC etiquette.

Below, I’ll dissect common email situations and explain how to answer the age-old question, “How can I piss off the least amount of people by replying to this email in the correct way?

When to Use Reply, Reply All, CC, and BCC

When to use Reply vs. Reply All

A Reply is when your email goes to a single person -- either the person who sent the original email or the person who sent the last message in the thread you’re responding to.

Reply All is when you respond to everyone on the thread. Other recipients will see a message you Reply All to, whether they’re in the “To” or “CC” fields.

When deciding between Reply and Reply All, ask yourself a series of questions:

If an email is addressed to you but only one person needs to know you responded, or if you know no one else will be confused if they don’t see your response, go ahead and reply to one person.

If your response will impact at least 70% of the people on the chain, if others will be confused by not seeing your response, or if others on the chain need to remain looped in, Reply All.

If a coworker gets promoted and her boss sends a department-wide email with the news, reply directly to your colleague with congratulations.

Similarly, if your CEO sends an email announcing the company crushed quarterly goals, there’s no need to Reply All with a “Hooray!” or “Way to go, team!” If you have a question or comment for your CEO, reply directly to him or follow up on a separate chain.

Reply All is helpful when you’re on an email chain full of people working together on a project. Everyone has access to the same information, and you can see comments and updated in real time.

If you’re on an email chain where others might have a similar question or your manager solicits feedback from everyone in the group, you might have identified a scenario where Reply All would be appropriate.

But please, spare your coworkers by resisting the urge to Reply All to your boss’s “I’m heading out early for a doctor’s appointment” email with, “That reminds me, anyone out there have a Dentist they love?” That’s what Google is for.

When to Use CC vs. BCC

If your response will influence other people’s decision making or current thread recipients should know others are looped in, go with CC or Reply All.

If a colleague introduces you to another salesperson over email, you wouldn’t Reply All because that will include your colleague on all future correspondence between you and the person they simply wanted to connect you with.

However, you also don’t want to remove your colleague from the thread without notice. Then you leave them wondering if you ever followed up or if you got their email introduction at all.

This is the perfect time to move your colleague to BCC, and send an email like:

Re: Neville < > Scott

Hey Neville,

Thanks for the introduction Brian! (moved to BCC)

Neville, I'm happy to meet you. I'd be happy to move forward with ... [rest of email]


Your colleague knows you responded, which removes any lingering doubt about whether you followed up. You’ve also saved them from an email chain they don’t need to be included on moving forward.

Okay, easy. But what about every other situation?

  • A new employee being introduced to your team. Do you Reply directly to them or Reply All to everyone on the thread?
  • Your team is planning an event. Do you Reply your thoughts to the organizer or everyone that will be impacted?
  • You have a specific question to ask in a thread but only one person specializes in this field. What now?

These scenarios are when the lines get blurred. That's why we built this easy-to-reference flowchart for quickly understanding when to Reply, Reply All, or BCC.

When in doubt, just try not to turn into a Reply All meme. As a refresher:

reply-all-meme-compressor.jpgSource: Quick Meme

We’ve all been on both sides here, let’s make the email world a safer place and use these reply options appropriately.

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