The number of published nursing research papers has increased exponentially over the past 20 years, partly due to the pressures placed on academics by universities to ‘publish or perish'. Nursing research has become an end in itself, largely divorced from the aims of theory building and practice development, and research findings are accumulating at an alarming and unwieldy rate. This discussion paper explores some of the possible reasons for this shift in the focus of the academic role and calls for a return to scholarship and a far broader understanding of the purpose and practice of research as a form of intellectual craftsmanship. In order to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the human condition and human suffering necessary for compassionate care, nurse researchers, practitioners and academics need to develop the ‘nursing imagination' through reflective writing, collaborative inquiry, the arts, humanities, novels and poetry. We should be guided in our research according to the demands of nursing practice and patient care and work towards creating an academic discipline where our work is valued according to the good it does rather than simply responding to the demands of our higher education employers.