This (part one) paper traces efforts to define 'goodness' in qualitative research within various fields, including nursing. At first closely aligned with the traditional tenets of quantitative research (reliability and validity), over time these are found to be increasingly problematic to uphold within a qualitative context. As alternative criteria more appropriate to qualitative approaches are developed, in many instances these also are wanting in that they continue to reflect a search for order and certainty that permeates the quantitative domain. In reviewing various sets of criteria of goodness, the concepts of reliability and validity in relation to qualitative research are conceived as being championed, translated, exiled, redeemed and surpassed. Part two of the paper addresses the topic of goodness of qualitative research within the philosophical 'problem of the criterion'. Discussion extends to how researchers might usefully juxtapose the rationality of a modern world with a mounting postmodern sensibility.