Respiratory rate is a key vital sign and the most sensitive indicator of illness severity. The respiratory rate for example provides evidence of clinical deterioration, is an early indicator of hypoxia, and is often the first sign of sepsis, shock and respiratory insufficiency. Despite the clinical importance of respiratory rate measurement, research has consistently found this task is frequently neglected. Contributing factors include inadequate knowledge and nurses’ perception of patient acuity. As textbooks are a key resource for undergraduate nursing students, an audit was conducted of 29 fundamental nursing textbooks to appraise descriptions of respiratory rate assessment. There was consistency in the normal range of respiratory rate reported in these texts but variability in the methods for measuring respiratory rate. Most texts failed to emphasise the importance of respiratory rate measurement. This might be one factor contributing to clinicians’ lack of awareness of the importance of respiratory rate measurement and the enduring neglect of this clinical task.