Patient-centred care is widely advocated in rheumatology. This involves collaboration among patients, caregivers and health professionals and is particularly important in chronic rheumatic conditions because the disease and treatment can impair patients' health and wellbeing. Qualitative research can systematically generate insights about people's experiences, beliefs and attitudes which patients may not always express in clinical settings. These insights can address complex and challenging areas in rheumatology such as treatment adherence and transition to adult healthcare services. Despite this, qualitative research comprises one per cent of studies published in top-tier rheumatology journals. A better understanding about the impact and role, methods and rigor of qualitative research is needed. This overview highlights recent contributions of qualitative research in rheumatology, summarizes common approaches and methods used, and outlines key principles to guide appraisal of qualitative studies.