Qualitative research is well placed to answer complex questions about food-related behaviour because it investigates how and why individuals act in certain ways. The field of qualitative health research is undoubtedly gaining momentum and, increasingly, there is a recognition that it should be a vital part of the decision-making processes that direct the development of health policy and practice. Much of the guidance available, however, is difficult to navigate for those new to 'qualitative research', and there is little discussion of qualitative research issues specifically in relation to nutrition and dietetics. This review, the first in a series, outlines the field of qualitative enquiry, its potential usefulness in nutrition and dietetics, and how to embark upon this type of research. Furthermore, it describes a process to guide high-quality qualitative research in this area that proceeds from the research question(s) and considers the key philosophical assumptions about ontology, epistemology and methodology that underpin the overall design of a study. Other reviews in this series provide an overview of the principal techniques of data collection and sampling, data analysis, and quality assessment of qualitative work, and provide some practical advice relevant to nutrition and dietetics, along with glossaries of key terms.
© 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 The British Dietetic Association Ltd.