The purpose of this research was to describe the kinds of pain assessments nursing home staff use with nursing home residents and the characteristics and behaviors of residents that staff consider as they assess pain. Twenty-one focus groups were held in 12 nursing homes. Nurses and other nursing home staff attended the focus groups. Coding techniques consistent with ethnographic methodology were used for data analysis. Four themes identified an underlying uncertainty in assessing residents' pain, the staff relationship-centered approach to pain assessment, the resident cues that alert staff to pain, and residents' characteristics important to the nursing assessment. Composition of focus groups made a difference in participation of certified nursing assistants in focus group discussion. Urban and rural differences were noted across the focus groups. Research is needed to further refine pain assessment techniques specifically for nursing home settings.