The article, called a “research advance”, will report new findings that cast significant new light on the original findings, but which might not be sufficient for a new paper in their own right without a lot of time-consuming further work.
In an editorial, the journal says research advances “might use a new technique or a different experimental design to generate results that strengthen, refine or even challenge the conclusions of the original research paper”.
Research advances will generally be about 1,500 words, excluding methods, and include up to four main figures, tables or videos. They will generally be reviewed by the same editors and reviewers who assessed the original manuscript and be clearly linked to the original research paper when they are published – though they will also be indexed and citable in their own right.
The journal has published its first research advance in its latest edition. It adds to a paper that reported an important step forward in electron cryo-microscopy, which could be used to study the structure of biological macromolecules at near-atomic resolution. The corresponding author on the original paper, Sjors Scheres, a group leader at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, has now reported that this new approach can be used to study the structure of smaller macromolecules, which has the potential to open the door to a much broader range of biological insights.
“The work of the Scheres lab is a fine example of what we are trying to achieve with research advances: to build this work into a full article might well have taken a great deal more time and delayed the communication of an improvement that many researchers might benefit from,” the editorial says.
The editorial describes research advances as an “experiment”, and says a potential next step would be to allow researchers who were not authors of the original article to publish one.
“This would open up the approach to much broader participation, and would raise a number of opportunities—as well as potential challenges. For example, attempts to replicate or extend a study might uncover limitations in the original work or they might substantially reinforce the initial investigation,” it says.
The new initiative follows other recent open access innovations, such as the journal F1000 Research, which relies entirely on post-publication peer review, and Nature Publishing Group’s Scientific Data, which publishes citable descriptions of the contents of data sets.