This paper begins with a critical overview of what the extant literature sees as the relationship between research, theory and practice. Most scholars maintain that there are two main viewpoints: research exists to build theory from practice and/or research exists to test existing theory in practice. It will be argued that is too simplistic a view and four specific linkages will be proffered: Theory Testing Research, Theory Generating Research, Theory Evaluating Research and Theory Framed Research. All four will be discussed and their contribution to the knowledge base of nursing practice explored. In concluding, an argument will be put forward proposing the view that undertaking research without considering theory is an empty and non-productive exercise. (C) 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.