This paper is an overview of qualitative research and its application to psychiatry. It is introductory and attempts to describe both the aims of qualitative research and its underlying philosophical basis. We describe the practice and process of qualitative research and follow this with an overview of the 3 main methods of inquiry: interviews, focus groups, and participant observation. Throughout the paper, we offer examples of cases where qualitative research has illuminated, or has the potential to illuminate, important questions in psychiatric research. We describe methods of sampling and follow with an overview of qualitative analysis, appropriate checks on rigour, and the presentation of qualitative results. The paper concludes by arguing that qualitative methods may be an increasingly appropriate methodology to answer some of the demanding research questions being posed in 21st century psychiatry.