Qualitative methodologies are relative newcomers to health sciences education research. While they may look very different to their quantitative counterparts in terms of size and scope, when well-applied they offer a fresh perspective and generate valuable research findings. Although qualitative research is being increasingly conducted in veterinary medical education, there are few contextualized resources to assist those who would like to develop their expertise in this area. In this article, we address this by introducing the principles of qualitative research design in a veterinary medical education context. Drawing from a range of contemporary resources, we explore the types of research goals and questions that are amenable to qualitative inquiry and discuss the process of formulating a worthwhile research question. We explain what research paradigms are and introduce readers to some of the methodological options available to them in qualitative research. Examples from veterinary medical education are used to illustrate key points. In a second companion article, we will focus on the decisions that need to be made regarding data sampling, collection, and analysis. We will also consider how qualitative research is evaluated, and discuss how qualitative findings are applied. Taken together, the two articles build an understanding of qualitative research, illuminate its potential to contribute to the scholarship of teaching and learning in veterinary medical education, and equip readers with an improved capacity to appraise its value.