Background Kuhn's (1962) acknowledgement of a paradigm as a way that scientists make sense of their world and its reality gave recognition to the idea of 'paradigm shift'. This shift exposes the transience of paradigm development shaped by societal and scientific evolution. This ongoing evolutionary development provides the researcher with many paradigms to consider regarding how research is undertaken and the search for understanding achieved.Aim An understanding of paradigm development is necessary when planning a study and can shape the search for understanding. It is hoped that the discussion presented here will assist novice and experienced researchers in articulating the rationales for their paradigm choices.Discussion An overview of the dominant paradigms is presented, reflecting ongoing paradigm development shaped by ontological, epistemological and methodological perspectives. Potential paradigm choices that shape research aims, objectives and focus in the search for understanding are considered.Conclusion The inherent debates about paradigm shift, division, war and synthesis leave the researcher many perspectives to consider. Articulating the world views underpinning constructivism, interpretivism and pragmatism is particularly challenging because of the blurring of boundaries between them.Implications for practice The evolutionary nature of paradigmatic development has provided nurse researchers with the opportunity for methodological openness to the myriad research approaches, methods and designs that they may choose to answer their research question. However, it is imperative that researchers consider their ontological stances and the nature of their research questions. This is challenging in constructivism, interpretivism and pragmatism, where there is often an overlap of paradigm world views.