• This article is based on a literature review carried out as part of a study of communication skills training in pre-registration nursing education in England in 2000.
• A systematic literature search was conducted and 200 articles were found that were relevant to the study.
• Definitional problems were found, with terms such as communication skills and interpersonal skills being used interchangeably.
• The term communications strategies is suggested to overcome these problems, as it reflects the logical organization of a number of different communication skills within a theoretical or empirical framework.
• Problems in current communication skills teaching and social barriers to using communication skills in practice are discussed.
• It is concluded that problems continue to exist in these areas and that an emphasis on both aspects is needed if patient and staff satisfaction is to be improved.