Although caring is a difficult entity to explain or define, many authors consider that caring is the central and unifying domain of nursing. It is important that nursing students understand what care is in order to be clear about what good nursing care is. This qualitative study was conducted to clarify Turkish nursing students' perception of caring. The sample was 19 last year undergraduate nursing students who volunteered to be involved in this study. Nursing students were asked to write incidents in which they observed nursing behaviours conducted in caring and noncaring ways. Then the students were interviewed to clarify why nursing behaviours that were addressed in their written incidents were considered as caring or noncaring. Data which obtain from students' reports and interviews were analyzed and themes of caring were formed into two groups: professional/ helping relationship and technical competency. (C) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.