A rise in qualitative social science manuscripts published in ecology and conservation journals speaks to the growing awareness of the importance of the human dimension in maintaining and improving Earth’s ecosystems. Given the rise in the quantity of qualitative social science research published in ecology and conservation journals, it is worthwhile quantifying the extent to which this research is meeting established criteria for research design, conduct, and interpretation. Through a comprehensive review of this literature, we aimed to gather and assess data on the nature and extent of information presented on research design published qualitative research articles, which could be used to judge research quality. Our review was based on 146 studies from across nine ecology and conservation journals. We reviewed and summarized elements of quality that could be used by reviewers and readers to evaluate qualitative research (dependability, credibility, confirmability, and transferability); assessed the prevalence of these elements in research published in ecology and conservation journals; and explored the implications of sound qualitative research reporting for applying research findings. We found that dependability and credibility were reasonably well reported, albeit poorly evolved in relation to critical aspects of qualitative social science such as methodology and triangulation, including reflexivity. Confirmability was, on average, inadequately accounted for, particularly with respect to researchers’ ontology, epistemology, or philosophical perspective and their choice of methodology. Transferability was often poorly developed in terms of triangulation methods and the suitability of the sample for answering the research question/s. Based on these findings, we provide a guideline that may be used to evaluate qualitative research presented in ecology and conservation journals to help secure the role of qualitative research and its application to decision making.