Health and illness behaviour occur within a cultural context. Ethnographic methodology facilitates an investigation of the context in which people's health beliefs and practices evolve as well as serving to identify the cultural components of health and illness. Ethnography is primarily an inductive mode of research which may utilize several methods of data collection. Participant observation, used in conjunction with interviewing, is the most frequently used data-gathering technique. Sampling procedures in ethnography must be addressed in relation to persons interviewed and/or observed, events to be seen, topics to be considered and time frames to be established. The ethnographic method creates difficulties in establishing reliability as techniques for gathering data are highly individualistic and involve a complex admixture of observations, structured and unstructured interviews, and other procedures. The lengthy stay in a community, as well as the extensive and in-depth data-collection procedures contribute to validity of the findings and their interpretation. Data analysis is time consuming and complex. Ethnography is concerned with the context of discovery, rather than verification, and leads to narrative descriptions and interpretations of cultural phenomena. Ethnography is a means for gaining access to the health beliefs and practices of a culture. In a practice profession such as nursing, improved understanding of the meaning of clients’ behaviour will enhance nursing judgements and improve nursing care.