• communication skills;
  • communication strategies;
  • nurse education;
  • nursing practice

• 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.