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Research Glossary


This Circular establishes principles for determining costs applicable to grants, contracts, and other agreements with educational institutions . The principles deal with the subject of cost determination. The circular applies to all Federal agencies that sponsor research and development, training, and other work at educational institutions shall apply the provisions of this circular in determining the costs incurred for such work. A-21 determines the terms of direct and indirect costs, allowable and unallowable expenditures, and now sets the terms of Cost Accounting Standards.


Institutions (usually a state or federal body) that sponsor a research endeavor, providing funds and other support. There are very many of these, and most of them are referred to using acronyms. The National Council of University Research Administrators (NCURA) offers and explanation of these acronyms, with links to the relevant agency sites: Louisiana State University also publishes a comprehensive directory of Federal Government agencies at its site which can be found at

Allowable Costs

Determined by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the sponsor’s requirements and/or university policy. OMB circular A-21 defines allowable costs as those that are: 1. Reasonable 2. Allocable to the project 3. given consistent treatment by the use of generally accepted accounting principles 4. conform to any limitations or exclusions set forth by the sponsored agreement or OMB Circular A-21.


Funds provided from an external sponsor for support of a project at the NC State University. This term is used for both original award and supplements.


An estimate of expenditures proposed to be incurred in the performance of a proposed statement of work.

Budget Category

A portion of the budget designated for certain kinds of expenditures, e.g., salaries, operations, travel, equipment.

Co-Principal Investigator

One investigator sharing equal responsibility for the direction of a research program. (PHS/NIH does not recognize the concept of co-principal investigator.)

Conflict of Interest Certifications

Institutional representative to certify that the institution has implemented and is enforcing a written policy on conflicts of interest consistent with federal regulations, all financial disclosures required by the conflict of interest policy were made; and that conflicts of interests, if any, were, or prior to the institution’s expenditure of any funds under the award, will be satisfactorily managed, reduced or eliminated in accordance with the institution’s conflict of interest policy and/or disclosed to the agency (as required by the agency).


A consortium is two or more institutions working on the same research project, either funded directly by the supporting agency or one prime institution subcontracting out the funds to the other members of the consortium.


A contract is an agreement to acquire services that primarily benefit the sponsor. For an award to be considered a contract, it normally must contain all of the following elements: 1. Detailed financial and legal requirements must be included with a specific statement of work to be performed. 2. A specific set of deliverables and/or reports to the sponsor is required. 3. Separate accounting procedures are required. 4. Legally binding contract clauses must be included. 5. Benefits of the project accrue first to the sponsor, then to the university, then to the nation.

Contributed Effort

Effort expended on a sponsored project that the sponsor does not compensate for; a form of cost sharing.

Cooperative Agreement

A funding mechanism which can be used by federal agencies when a program requires more agency involvement and restrictions than a grant but requires less agency supervision than a contract.

Cost Reimbursement

A type of agreement whereby payments are based on actual allowable costs incurred in performance of the work.

Cost Share

University and nonfederal sponsor resources provided in support of sponsored programs; includes contributed effort and matching funds.

Direct Costs

Direct costs are all costs that can be directly attributed to the conduct of the project and are specified in the proposal budget. These costs can be readily identified and are itemized by name and amount.


The amount of time, usually expressed as a percentage of the total, that a faculty member or other employee spends on a project. Effort is certified and documented through the TEARS Effort Certification Reporting system.

Effort Reporting

Effort reporting and certification form required for compliance with federal regulations.


Tangible nonexpendable personal property including exempt property charged directly to the award having a useful life of more than one year and an acquisition cost of $5000 or more per unit.

Expanded Authorities

Policy implemented by some federal granting agencies which delegates certain prior approval authorities to grantee institutions. This delegation allows for internal university approval of administrative and spending actions, thus avoiding delays in project progress.

Facilities and Administrative (FAC or F&A) Cost Rates

The rates used to recover the facilities and administrative costs of a sponsored project. Negotiated, approved rates are to be used for all agreements with the federal government and for most non-federal projects, as allowable.

Facilities and Administrative (FAC or F&A) Costs

Also referred to as indirect costs, overhead, overhead costs, or administrative costs. Facilities and administrative costs are actual costs incurred to conduct the normal business activities of an organization that cannot be readily identified with or directly charged to a specific project or activity. The normal activities of the university include instruction and departmental research, organized research, public service, and other institutional activities. F&A costs are real, auditable costs incurred by the university each time it accepts an award for a sponsored project. If the university does not collect full reimbursement for these costs, other university resources must be used to subsidize them.

Firm Fixed-Price (FFP)

A type of agreement whereby payment is not based on actual costs expended but upon a mutually agreed upon price.

Formal Proposal

Any proposal submitted by a university employee to an outside entity that may directly lead to an award. All formal proposals require an institutional endorsement by an official authorized to commit university resources. NOTE: ONLY ELECTED MEMBERS OF THE FACULTY MAY SUBMIT GRANT PROPOSALSELECTED MEMBERS OF THE FACULTY INCLUDE: Professors, Associate and Assistant Professors, Instructors and Lecturers.


A unilateral transfer of money, property, or other assets to the recipient for the recipient’s ownership and use by a donor who makes no claims on the recipient in connection with the gift. Gifts normally have the following characteristics:
1. The statement of work allows the project director significant freedom to change emphases within the general area of work as the project progresses.

2. No deliverables are involved.

3. Separate accounting procedures are not required.

4. Benefits of the project are to accrue to the nation and the world.

5. Sponsor has no audit rights.

6. No regulatory issues are involved, such as human subjects or animal care.


An agreement to transfer money, property, services, or anything of value to accomplish a purpose, such as support or assistance in an area of interest to the grantor. For an award to be considered a grant, it normally will contain the following elements:
1.  The statement of work allows the project director significant freedom to change emphasis within the general area of work as the project progresses.

2. Deliverables are minimal, usually consisting of reports only.

3.  Separate accounting procedures are required.


A grantee is the recipient of a grant. When the university accepts a grant award, on be-half of an individual, it becomes the grantee.

Human Subjects

A living individual about whom an investigator conducting research obtains:

1. Data through intervention or interaction with the individual.

2. Identifiable private information.

In-Kind Contribution

A non-cash commitment (such as contributed effort, facilities use, or supplies) to share the costs of a sponsored project.

Indirect Costs

See Facilities and Administrative (FAC or F&A) Costs.

Informal Proposal

A short (generally 2-5 pages) description of the proposed project that does not involve a commitment of university resources or a signature on behalf of the university. An informal proposal may include a total cost estimate but does not include a budget and is not expected to result directly in an award. The purpose of an informal proposal is usually to inform and interest the potential sponsor enough to request a more detailed formal proposal. Also sometimes called a letter proposal, mini-proposal, preliminary proposal, pre-application, or concept paper.

Informed Consent

The voluntary agreement obtained from a subject (or the subject’s legally authorized representative) to participate in research or related activity, before participating in that activity. The consent must permit the individual (or legally authorized representative) to exercise free power of choice without undue inducement or any element or deceit, fraud, force, duress, or other form of coercion or constraint.

Institutional Authorized Officials

Individuals authorized by the Board of Regents to sign grants, contracts, and agreements on behalf of NC State University.

Institutional Review Board

A board or committee organized at the university to provide review at the institutional level for ethical concerns in research, such as laboratory animal care and the use of human subjects in research.

Intellectual Property (IP)

Intellectual property is a broad term that encompasses the various intangible products of the intellect of inventors. These include patents, trademarks, copyrights, trade secrets, know-how, and other proprietary concepts, including an invention, scientific or technological development, and even computer software and genetically engineered microorganisms.

Key Professional Personnel

Key professional personnel (or key personnel) are all individuals who participate in the scientific development or execution of the project. Typically, key personnel have a Ph.D. Ed.D., or M.D., but may also include the master’s or baccalaureate level, provided they contribute in a substantive way to the research.

Letter of Inquiry

A letter of inquiry is initiated by an applicant to determine if a proposed project is within a private agency’s fundable program areas and to request agency policy and program information, as well as instructions and forms.

Letter of Intent

A letter of intent advises a funding agency that an application will be submitted in response to their solicitation. The letter may contain general program information, unofficial cost estimates, and a request for specific application guidelines, instructions and forms.

Limited Submission

When a program limits the number or dollar value of proposals that each institution may submit.

Matching Funds

A cash commitment to share the costs of a sponsored project. See also Cost Share.


Any change made to an existing sponsored agreement.

Modified Total Direct Costs (MTDC)

The portion of direct costs on which the indirect costs are based, namely: salaries and wages, fringe benefits, materials and supplies, services, travel, and up to $25,000 on each subgrant and subcontract. Tuition, scholarship and fellowship costs, participant support costs, equipment (or fabricated equipment) greater than $5,000 are excluded from the basis of computing indirect costs.

No-Cost Extension (NCE)

Provides for an additional period of performance to accomplish project goals. May be handled internally in certain circumstances or sought externally from the sponsor.

Office of Management and Budget (Federal)

OMB, working cooperatively with Federal agencies and non-Federal parties, establishes governmentwide grants management policies and guidelines throughcirculars and common rules. These policies are adopted by each grantmaking agency and inserted into their Federal regulations. Their website is available here:

Participant Support Costs

Participant support costs refer to costs paid to or on behalf of participants, trainees/fellows attending conferences, meetings, symposia, training activities and workshops. A participant must be an individual who is attending in the context of a “student.” -Participant support costs may include transportation, per diem, stipends, supplies, conference fees, and other related costs (registration fees, books, instructional materials) for participants only. Honoraria and travel for speakers and receptions are not considered participant support costs.

-Employees of NC State, including Graduate Research Assistants (who are considered employees), may be considered a participant under the definition above, but should not be included under participant support cost in a proposal budget because they are a NC State employee. Their costs should be incorporated into other budget categories (i.e. travel).

-Participant support costs (non-employee participants) are exempt from indirect costs.

Peer Review

A process utilized by some federal and private agencies, whereby committees of research investigators in the same area of research or with the necessary expertise (from other institutions) review and recommend applications to the funding agency.

Principal Investigator (PI)

Typically, a faculty member who submitted a proposal that was accepted and funded by an external sponsor, also referred to as the project director. The PI has primary responsibility for technical compliance, completion of programmatic work, and fiscal stewardship of sponsor funds.

Prior Approval

The requirement for written documentation of permission to use project funds for purposes not in the approved budget, or to change aspects of the program from those originally planned and approved. Examples of actions requiring prior approval are: rebudgets, no-cost extensions, pre-award costs, subaward requests/modifications, change in scope/objective of project, change in PI. Prior approval must be obtained before the performance of the act that requires such approval under the terms of the agreement.


Process by which funds available for spending are reallocated between budget categories to allow best use of funds to accomplish project goals.

Request for Applications (RFA)

Any resulting awards would normally be funded by a grant. The RFA instructions include the information necessary to complete the application and mailing instructions.

Request for Proposals (RFP)

An RFP contains the detailed information that must be supplied in the proposal. The proposal procedure is often complex and must satisfy very specific requirements. Any resulting award(s) would normally be funded by a contract. See Invitation to Bid.