This article aims to advance understanding and discussion of perceptions studies as a method for strengthening humanitarian performance. Perceptions studies are qualitative studies produced for and often by humanitarian organisations, based on analysis of local perceptions of humanitarian efforts. While these studies are normatively asserted as valuable within the humanitarian sector, there has been no synthesis to date of their potential and limitations. This critical review of 59 perceptions-related documents responds to that gap, outlining key assertions of the value added and challenges of using perceptions studies in humanitarian work. While the objective is to inform and strengthen future use of this method, the perceptions literature also points to significant tension between this qualitative method and dominant expectations in humanitarian monitoring and evaluation.