Within the context of health service research, qualitative research has sometimes been seen as a 'soft' approach, lacking scientific rigour. In order to promote the legitimacy of using qualitative methodology in this field, numerous social scientists have produced checklists, guidelines or manuals for researchers to follow when conducting and writing up qualitative work. However, those working in the health service should be aware that social scientists are not all in agreement about the way in which qualitative work should be conducted, and they should not be discouraged from conducting qualitative research simply because they do not possess certain technical skills or extensive training in sociology, anthropology or psychology. The proliferation of guidelines and checklists may be off-putting to people who want to undertake this sort of research, and they may also make it even more difficult for researchers to publish work in medical journals. Consequently, the very people who may be in a position to change medical practice may never read the results of important qualitative research.