Abstract Background Traditionally UK dietitians have tended to take a more quantitative approach to research. Qualitative research which gives an in-depth view of people's experiences and beliefs is also now being used to help answer some important dietetic research questions. Review A review of the limited number of qualitative research papers in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 1990–2002 (nine papers in all), revealed a lack of specific discussion of the quality strategies commonly used in qualitative research. This could indicate a less than robust approach, but might also reflect a different perspective on quality, or simply the difficulties associated with disseminating qualitative research to a profession whose members lack familiarity with the language. The fact that qualitative research seems to be used rarely may also indicate a poor understanding of its role. Purpose of this paper This paper seeks to clarify the potential role of qualitative research and draws on previously published guidelines for demonstrating quality. It is hoped that this will offer dietitians a framework for carrying out qualitative research and a language for reporting it, as well acting as a stimulus for discussion.