Despite the fact that the nursing literature is replete with calls to make the practice of nursing research based, little is known about the structure and function of research utilization. The purpose of this study was to explore the conceptual structure of research utilization. Data were collected from a randomly selected sample of 600 registered nurses practicing in western Canada. Using the techniques of structural equation modeling (with LISREL), competing models representing conceptual structures of research utilization were developed and evaluated. In the first model, a simplex style of model, the investigator proposed that a nurse's early responses would influence subsequent responses to the question measuring research utilization, implying a time ordered causal sequence. In the second style of model, a common cause (or factor-like) model, the investigator proposed a stable underlying concept, research utilization, that was relatively insensitive to prompting and time ordering. The simplex style of model failed to reach acceptable indices of fit. The common cause model fit the data well, suggesting that instrumental, conceptual, and persuasive research utilization exist and that a global measure of research utilization may be defensible.