There was a time when scientific progress depended on elaborate and often protracted exchanges of correspondence. Charles Darwin wrote thousands of letters, and his correspondence with influential thinkers had an important impact on his theories. This communication was private. Fortunately, much has survived and found its way into archives, where it forms a key part of the scientific record.

Although research findings today are mainly disseminated and recorded in the form of peer-reviewed research manuscripts, scholarly commentary on published research is still crucial: it can provide nuance, refinement and caveats. And these days, it moves fast.

So, from this week, Nature will consider such post-publication contributions as Matters Arising — a format designed to peer-review and publish online exceptionally interesting and timely scientific comments and clarifications related to primary research papers published in the journal. Authors of the original papers will be given the chance to reply. If our editors deem that these responses move the discussion forward in a constructive way, they will be published at the same time as the Matters Arising article.

We also recognize the need for timely release of these exchanges to the relevant communities, and the difficulty of doing so through an often-lengthy peer-review process. So, to accommodate both rigorous peer review and the need for timeliness, authors of Matters Arising and the original Nature paper are encouraged to release preprints during the formal journal process, as supported by our policies. Comments can also be made on all original Nature research papers online, and these can be linked to relevant commentaries, to articles published elsewhere and to relevant preprints.

Decisions to publish Matters Arising will be taken by journal editors. To ensure the integrity of the published record, and to help readers find all relevant information, published Matters Arising articles will be linked to the online version of the original paper and to the original authors’ response. This format will replace Brief Communications Arising as an avenue for post-publication commentary on primary research.

Over the coming months, we plan to introduce the Matters Arising format to the other Nature Research journals, where it will replace Correspondence for such discussions. In this way, we aim to offer a standardized formal mechanism and a constructive peer-review process for post-publication commentary. This should allow debate on published papers in the journals’ online pages, and provide visibility and credit for authors engaged in these debates.

All current policies on competing interests, authorship standards (including joint authorship) and author contributions, availability of data, materials and code (where relevant), and publication of the reporting summary will apply to Matters Arising and any published reply from the original authors.