National Cancer Institute

NCI Research Coding and Reporting

Frequently Asked Questions

What is scientific coding?

Scientific coding refers to the categorization of research projects according to scientific focus. In this process, research projects are analyzed and classified according to scientific topic and content. Scientific coding allows the development of science-based budget information, which can be used in portfolio analysis to examine the distribution of funds across research areas. Scientific coding is also necessary to answer inquiries about the scientific and budgetary aspects of Institute-funded research.

NCI employs a sophisticated system of scientific coding in which trained professionals and/or scientific staff analyze grant applications, contracts, and intramural projects to classify each project for its degree of relevance to Special Interest Category (SIC) and Organ Site (SITE) codes. This coding structure is meant to describe in a consistent way the major scientific disciplines that are of stated or growing interest to NIH, DHHS, Congress, and the public. A critical characteristic of coded data is comparability from one fiscal year to the next. This process allows the Institute to respond quickly to requests for information from NCI staff and the broader community. The coding definitions used by the NCI intramural program are consistent with those used for extramural grants and research and development (R&D) contracts to maintain accuracy across the Institute's portfolio.

How can I see what research NCI funds?

Visit the NCI Funded Research Portfolio Web site, which contains information about research grant and contract awards made by NCI. This site provides access to various NCI budget reports associated with research funding by research categories. It also provides the ability to search the database in various ways, including a text search of the project abstract and a search of the NIH research categories that are assigned to the projects by extramural and intramural groups.

How does NCI assign "percent relevance" to its research projects?

NCI research projects are coded to a variety of research categories and organ sites. In many cases a portion of a research project, and not the entire project, focuses on a category or organ site. When this is the case, that portion is assigned to a category as a percentage. This is considered the "percent relevance" of that category of the total research project. How the percentages are assigned depends on the type of project.

Research pProjects funded by NCI but conducted at places other than NCI are processed as grants or research and development (R&D) contracts. These projects are coded directly by someone with scientific expertise who reads the entire project proposal, codes it to specific categories or organ sites, then uses their technical judgment to determine what portion of the project is relevant to each category assigned. These assignments of categories may overlap and are not meant to add up to 100%.

For research conducted at NCI, the scientific experts responsible for coding are the Principal Investigators (PI) of the projects (or sub-projects). These PIs examine their projects once a year to determine the percent relevance of their research to a number of categories and organ sites that are tracked by NCI. To assure quality, a second level of review is done by other NCI staff to validate the information entered by the PI(s).

What is the difference between Site, Special Interest Categories (SIC), and Common Scientific Outline (CSO)?

Coding enables NCI to monitor categories in a consistent way. The use of percent relevance provides a way to track the research investments of the Institute. All projects are coded for SIC and SITE displaying both the specific area of research focus for each project (SIC) and the organ site (SITE). Projects may also be coded by what is referred to as the common scientific outline or CSO.

SITE: The reporting categories for NCI research projects. They are defined by NCI-designated cancer organ sites, such as Breast or Liver; or related cancers, such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. A grant is often coded by SIC and SITE.

Special Interest Categories (SIC): Reporting categories for NCI research projects that describe the major areas of study or scientific disciplines that are of stated or growing interest to decision makers at the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, Congress, or the public. SICs are added annually as the interests in different scientific disciplines change or grow. Examples of SICs are Nanotechnology and Drug Development. A project is often coded by SIC and SITE.

Common Scientific Outline: The Common Scientific Outline (CSO) is a coding system used by public and private organizations in the US, UK, and Canada to describe research projects. The development of the CSO provides a framework to improve coordination among research organizations, making it possible to compare the research portfolios of public, non-profit, and governmental research agencies.

The CSO is organized around six broad areas of scientific interest in cancer research, including: Biology; Etiology; Prevention; Early detection, Diagnosis, and Prognosis; Treatment; and Cancer Control, Survivorship, and Outcomes Research.

What role do NCI Divisions play in reporting the research funding in their specific portfolios?

NCI Divisions administering extramural funding are encouraged to work with NCI's Division of Extramural Activities to clarify the research being conducted under specific projects. The Divisions provide category funding information for all in-house spending, including intramural, Research Management and Support, and control in-house funding mechanisms.

Interaction of NCI's Divisions and Centers with the research documentation groups is one component of the NCI Data Quality Plan. Additional components include the alignment of coding guidelines and procedures, written definitions, and training. Members of the staff analyze the scientific coding and provide quality-control assurance to maintain consistency in interpretation/definition and approach from project to project and across fiscal years. The coding definitions used by the intramural program are consistent with those used for extramural grants to maintain comparability across the NCI portfolio.

Updated: September 6, 2017