TN 3 (08-09)
NL 00610.060 Notice Style Guidelines
Use the following notice style guidelines when creating your notice.
A. Using salutations
A salutation is the opening greeting that addresses the notice recipient.
EXAMPLE: Dear Mr. Jones
Using salutations in most notices is optional. Most systems-generated notices do not use salutations. A salutation is mandatory for notices prepared in the Document Processing System (DPS).
B. Using titles
A title is an abbreviation added to, and preceding, an individual’s name as a courtesy or to indicate the individual’s rank or profession.
EXAMPLE: Mr., Ms.
Using titles in notices is optional. Most systems-generated notices do not use titles. To include a title, use the adult’s name shown with “Mr.” or “Ms.”
NOTE: Titles are not shown in the mailing address field of notices. The preferred format for the addressee’s name in the notice address block is first name, middle initial, and last name, with no title (for example, Donna G. Robertson). In some automated notices, the full middle name may be generated.
C. Incorporating the servicing office address and telephone number
By law, every Title II and Title XVI notice must include the address and telephone number of the local office serving the applicant, beneficiary, or recipient. When the office issuing the notice is not the servicing office, the address and telephone number of the servicing office must be clearly displayed in either the referral paragraph or in another section of the notice. See Sections 205 (s) and 1631 (o) of the Social Security Act.
D. Using bullets and numbered lists
Bulleted lists may be used to highlight a set of related items and make them stand out on a page. Numbered lists may be used to show order of importance or a sequence of steps, rules, or instructions. Never use a bulleted or numbered list for only one item. Use the following guidelines when your notice includes bullets or numbered lists:
Indent the list.
Use complete sentences or sentence fragments in the list, but do not use both within the same list.
Use similar grammatical structure whenever possible. Avoid creating awkward phrases in the process.
When necessary, use a bulleted list within a numbered list or vice versa. Never place a bulleted or numbered list within the same type of list.
E. Using tables and charts
You may use a table or chart to increase clarity, reduce text, and organize information. Tables and charts often convey information more quickly and clearly than information presented in narrative form.
F. Dividing a notice into sections
Break the material into short sections separated with white space so that the notice is easier to read and understand and is more visually appealing. Use headings at the beginning of each section, except do not use a heading before the first introductory paragraph.
Short sections separated by white space:
simplify the addition of informative headings (subordinate headings),
help the reader understand the notice, and
enable the reader to easily locate specific information within the notice.
Long, dense sections with no white space:
give the impression that the notice will be hard to understand,
may cause the reader not to read the entire page, and
may reduce the reader’s comprehension.
G. Using emphasis techniques
Use emphasis techniques to draw the reader’s attention to major points of interest. Emphasis techniques include:
Subordinate headings (subheadings, captions) (What We Will Pay and When). For information on subordinate headings, see NL 00610.050C.4.
Bold type (Call us at (800) 772-1213). Don’t bold more than two consecutive lines of text.
Uppercase letters (DETACH HERE. DO NOT STAPLE). Use all uppercase text sparingly. There should rarely be a need for all uppercase text in the body of a notice. Sentences written with all uppercase letters are more difficult to read. All uppercase sentences usually bring the reader to a standstill because the shapes of words disappear, causing the reader to slow down. Readers also tend to skip sentences written in all uppercase.
NOTE: When preparing a notice in DPS do not use all uppercase letters for manual fill-in entries.
Underlining (We must see the original document). Don’t underline more than two consecutive lines of text.
Bullets or em-dashes (You have 60 days to ask for an appeal). For information on using bullets, see NL 00610.060D in this section.
NOTE: If the equipment you are using does not print solid bullets (•), then use open bullets (o), or an “em-dash” (—).
Coordinating conjunctions, “and” and “or.” Always capitalize and bold the coordinating conjunctions “AND” and “OR” when used to link bullets.
IMPORTANT: Never use exclamation points (!) for emphasis in a notice. In addition, systems limitations may restrict the use of some emphasis techniques.
H. Incorporating Internet information
We have implemented processes to allow the public the opportunity to accomplish their business with the agency online. We offer a variety of services via the Internet. Incorporate Internet links into notices whenever possible.
I. Using a referral paragraph
A referral paragraph provides the reader with helpful details and sources of additional information. Give appropriate SSA contact information in the referral paragraph, including:
SSA’s national toll-free 800 number: 1(800) 772-1213
SSA’s national TTY toll-free number: 1(800) 325-0778
SSA’s Internet link: www.socialsecurity.gov
Servicing office address and telephone number
IMPORTANT: It is mandatory to include the servicing office address and telephone number in all Title II and Title XVI notices. If the servicing office address is different from the return address and is not included anywhere else in the notice, the servicing office address must be displayed in the referral paragraph. If the servicing office telephone number is not shown anywhere else in the notice, include it in the referral paragraph. For further information, see NL 00610.060C.
You may include the name of a field office (FO) contact for notices that originate in an FO.
Give contact information for other government agencies, if applicable.
J. Using signatures and signature titles
The name and title of an appropriate SSA official is placed at the end of the notice text, before any enclosure information. For further information, refer to NL 00601.003 Name, Title, and Signature on Notices.
K. Identifying notice enclosure(s)
List each document you are including in the envelope with the notice. Use a publication number or name for each enclosure. If you include many documents, it is preferable to use the document names.
L. Using summary sheets
Use summary sheets for complex computations or actions. Generally, we use summary sheets with:
award notices, to explain how we calculated the monthly payment and amount of the first check;
postentitlement adjustment notices, to explain complex actions;
overpayment notices, to show how we determined the overpayment amount; and
certain Supplemental Security Income (SSI) decision notices, as mandated by the Ford et al. v. Apfel court case.
In these cases, send:
a notice to summarize critical elements and appeal rights, and
a summary sheet to show how we calculated certain amounts, such as payments and overpayments.