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What Is a “cc”?

I’ve been involved in business writing long enough to remember when a “cc” was actually a carbon copy. I remember the messy blue of the carbon paper showing up on snowy white objects such as a new blouse or crisp business envelopes. I even remember mimeograph machines. Do you?

But for those of you who joined the business world after carbon paper left it, your spelled out version of cc is not colored by history. To you, cc simply means “copy, or copies.”

These days, nearly all cc’s come from printers connected to our computers, or from photocopiers. But we still call them cc’s despite the absence of carbon. If you need a reason for that second c, think of them as “courtesy copies.”

If you don’t particularly like the abbreviation cc, you have other choices. When copying a message to others, you may indicate copies any of these ways:

cc: Lida Rufino

Copies to: Nadia Ellis
Elba Melendez
Clifton Wirtz

Copy to: Mrs. E. Gaertner

c: Ms. Knold
Mr. Perryman
Dr. Nguyen

Please note that pc is not correct. (That’s ironic, since pc means “politically correct” in the U.S.)

When you send copies to more than one person, list their names alphabetically (by last name) or according to their rank in the organization. For example, in the list directly above, Ms. Knold may be the president; Mr. Perryman, the vice president; and Dr. Nguyen, a director.

Microsoft Outlook uses the abbreviation Cc. According to strict rules, that first capital C is incorrect. However, with its presence everywhere, Cc may soon become the standard.

Yes, office practices and writing standards do evolve, and we can enjoy some of the changes. I miss big old oak desks and filing cabinets. But real carbon copies? Never!

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By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English.