TN 3 (08-09)

NL 00610.050 Organizing a Notice to Ensure Clarity

A properly organized notice communicates a clear and effective message to the reader. It progresses logically and flows smoothly from the beginning to the end without confusing the reader. A well-organized notice is easier to read and understand and reduces the number of inquiries to SSA.

Use the following guidelines to organize your notice.

A. Organize the notice content

Here are two ways to organize a notice:

  1. 1. 


  2. 2. 

    by order of importance

You may organize your notice using one or both methods.

1. Organize chronologically

Chronological organization arranges topics in the order in which they occur. This method is usually used to show steps in a process or to explain how a process works. Present the information in the sequence the reader or SSA will follow. An example of chronological organization follows:

  1. a. 

    You fill out an application to get a benefit.

  2. b. 

    You submit the application.

  3. c. 

    We review the application.

  4. d. 

    We make a decision on the application.

  5. e. 

    We send you a notice with the decision.

2. Organize by importance of information

When organizing a notice based on importance of the information, first state the action, decision, or information that most directly affects that reader. The remainder of the notice contains specialized information, exceptions, or secondary points that are progressively less significant to the reader. For example, a disallowance notice is organized to:

  1. a. 

    inform the reader that we disallowed his or her application;

  2. b. 

    state the reason(s) for the disallowance;

  3. c. 

    provide information on how to appeal the decision; and

  4. d. 

    give SSA contact information if the reader has questions.

Other notices are more general in content and are sent to a large group of people (for example, the 2009 Economic Recovery Payment notice). The most important information for notices sent to a large audience is the information that affects the most readers. Organizing a notice on the basis of importance to the majority of the audience ensures that the information, action, or decision with the greatest significance to the largest number of readers comes first, followed by notice content that involves successively fewer readers.

B. Group related information

Always group related information together. Break the material into short sections that express only one idea in each paragraph, unless multiple ideas are brief and easy to understand.

C. Organize the notice headings

Headings are the titles and subtitles in a notice. Headings inform the reader about:

  • The source of the notice (Social Security Administration)

  • The program (for example, Supplemental Security Income)

  • The type or purpose of the notice (for example, Notice of Award or Overpayment Information)

  • The topic of each notice section (for example, How To Appeal)

There are four levels of headings used in notices.

1. First-line heading

The first-line heading is always “Social Security Administration.”

2. Second-line heading

The second-line heading is the program title. Use the second-line headings shown below.

Second-line headings

Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance

Supplemental Security Income

Extra Help With Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs

Special Veterans Benefits

IMPORTANT: When the notice content crosses program lines, omit the second-line heading (program title) and use the third-line heading "Important Information" in place of the program title.

3. Third-line heading

The third-line heading is the subject of the notice. It draws attention to the main topic of the notice and lets the reader know immediately why he or she received the notice. Examples of third-line headings are shown below.

Third-line headings

Notice of Award

Notice of Disapproved Claim

Claim Information

Notice of Reconsideration

Notice of Disability Cessation

Important Information

Notice of Change in Benefits

Notice of Change in Payment

Notice of Planned Action

Notice of Overpayment

Overpayment Information

Notice of Continuing Disability Review

Notice of Denial of Reinstatement Request

Notice of Award of Reinstated Benefits

Notice of Decision – Fully Favorable

Pre-Decisional Notice

Request for Information

4. Subordinate headings (subheadings, captions)

Subordinate headings (subheadings, captions) are descriptive headings used in the body of the notice. Subordinate headings help organize the notice content, break up the information into understandable segments, and draw attention to specific topics contained in the notice. It is important to ensure that your subordinate headings tell the reader what each notice section covers. Accurate subordinate headings can help the reader locate essential information. Subordinate headings should not be too long and should be shorter than the content that follows.

There are three types of subordinate headings that aid in the organization of your notice:

  • question subheadings

  • statement subheadings

  • topic subheadings

a. Question subheadings

Question subheadings are written as questions. Questions entice the reader to continue reading and guide the reader to the answer. For example:

  • Do You Think You Don’t Owe This Money?

  • What Does Your Earnings Record Show?

  • Do You Disagree With This Decision?

b. Statement subheadings

Statement subheadings are short phrases that clearly describe the content that follows. For example:

  • How To Appeal

  • If You Have Questions

  • How To Pay Us Back

c. Topic subheadings

Topic subheadings consist of a word or short phrase that is very general. They are more formal and less descriptive than the other types of subheadings. Topic subheadings are not as helpful to the reader because they are vague. For example:

  • Other Information

  • Information About Medicare

  • Payment Information

D. Review the notice organization

After the notice is complete, review your notice to ensure that you followed the organizational guidelines and that your notice flows smoothly from beginning to end.

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NL 00610.050 - Organizing a Notice to Ensure Clarity - 10/21/2016
Batch run: 10/21/2016