4 things you need to know about email's BCC field

(MoneyWatch) Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook's BCC field -- shorthand for the last century's Blind Carbon Copy -- is a way to send an informational copy of a message to recipients without the folks in the To and CC lines knowing. It's a handy tool to keep in your toolbox, as long as you wield it properly. Here are a few tips for getting started with this handy, but potentially dangerous, email feature.

Turn it on and off. The most vexing aspect of using BCC in modern versions of Outlook is that it's not even visible by default, and figuring out how to get to it is challenging. To see the BCC line in a new email, open a blank new message and click the Options tab in the ribbon. Then click BCC. The BCC field is now on for all new messages until you turn it off again in the same way.

Figure out who you BCC'd. As you know, recipients can't tell who you included in the BCC field, or even if you used the BCC field at all. But that doesn't mean you can't. To see who you BCC'd in a previous email, just open the Sent mail folder and open the message. You'll see the BCC field preserved for future reference.

Never violate the trust. Being included in the BCC field of an email is a sacred trust. If you're a manager, for example, and one of your employees BCC's you on an email about an overdue project, the last thing you should do is click Reply All and jump into the conversation, admonishing the recipient for being late. If you do that, the jig is up, and everyone knows that the sender was secretly informing you about the email thread. This can have a seriously draining effect on productivity and morale. Bottom line: Never, ever reply-all to a message for which you're in the BCC line.

BCC with care. The corollary to the last tip is that you -- as the sender -- should include people on the BCC line with great care. Remember that if you do, you're trusting anyone on the BCC line to not accidentally or intentionally give you up to the thread. My rule of thumb: Never BCC someone on a thread with bad news, only good news. If you have to send an FYI about bad news, send a separate email.