The cornerstone of contemporary nursing practice is the provision of individualised nursing care. Sustaining and nourishing the stream of research frameworks that inform individualised care are the findings from qualitative research. At the centre of much qualitative research practice, however, is an assumption that experiential understanding can be delivered through a thematisation of meaning which, it will be argued, can lead the researcher to make unsustainable assumptions about the relations of language and meaning-making to experience. We will show that an uncritical subscription to such assumptions can undermine the researcher's capacity to represent experience at the high level of abstraction consistent with experience itself and to thus inform genuinely individualised care. Instead, using qualia as a touchstone for the possibilities of understanding and representing experience, we trace the ‘designative’ and ‘expressive’ distinction to language in order to raise critical questions concerning both these assumptions and common practices within qualitative research. Following the ‘expressive’ account of language, we foreground in particular the hermeneutic work of Gadamer through which we explore the possibilities for a qualitative research approach that would better seek the mot juste of individual experience and illuminate qualia in order to better inform genuinely individualised care.