This paper explores the role of nursing interaction within the context of handovers and seeks to identify the clinical discourses used by registered nurses, student nurses and care assistants in acute elderly care wards, to determine their influence on the delivery of patient care. The study design involved an ethnographic approach to data collection which involved: observations of formal nursing end of shift reports (23 handovers) and informal interactions between nurses (146 hours); interviews (n = 34) with registered nurses, student nurses and care assistants; and analysis of written nursing records. A grounded theory analysis was undertaken. Data were collected from five acute elderly care wards at a district general hospital in the south of England. Results from this empirical study indicate that handovers were formulaic, partial, cryptic, given at high speed, used abbreviations and jargon, required socialized knowledge to interpret, prioritized biomedical accounts and emphasized physical aspects of care. Patients' resuscitation status was highly salient to all grades of nurse. Doing 'paperwork' was accorded less status and priority than patient care, and was regarded as excessively time consuming. Despite this, there was evidence of repetition in nursing documents. Moreover, the delivery of clinical nursing appeared to be guided by personal records rather than formal records.