AIM: This paper reports a critical review of nursing organizational culture research studies with the objectives of: (1) reviewing theoretical and methodological characteristics of the studies and (2) drawing inferences specific to the state of knowledge in this field. BACKGROUND: Organizational culture is regarded as significant in influencing research use in clinical practice yet it is not understood how culture shapes practitioners' behaviours. Only one review of this empirical literature in nursing has been completed. METHOD: Using selected computerized databases, published nursing research studies in English that examine organizational culture were accessed. Organizational culture studies were categorized using Hatch's three perspectives on organizational culture: (1) modern, (2) symbolic-interpretive and (3) postmodern. The review was conducted in 2005. RESULTS: Twenty-nine studies were in the final data set. Results pointed to variations in cultural definitions and incorporation of organizational sciences theory. In classifying the studies, modern perspectives dominated (n = 22), symbolic-interpretive approaches were an emerging group (n = 6) and one study was unclassifiable. Our results expand current cultural instrument reviews by pinpointing tools that have been previously overlooked and by identifying ongoing theoretical and methodological challenges for researchers. CONCLUSION: An exclusive reliance on modernistic approaches in organizational culture research cannot yield a complete understanding of the phenomenon. Rather, the field could benefit from a variety of cultural approaches. In a similar vein, researchers need to be mindful of the terminology and the unit of analysis they use in their research, as these are the two largest research challenges.