Vaccination is the current strategy for control and prevention of severe rotavirus infections, a major cause of acute, dehydrating diarrhoea in young children worldwide. Public health interventions aimed at improving water, food and sanitation are unlikely adequately to control the disease. The development of vaccines against severe rotavirus diarrhoea is based upon homotypic or heterotypic protection provided against either a single common G serotype (monovalent vaccines) or against multiple serotypes (multivalent vaccines). Rotavirus strain surveillance has a high priority in disease control programmes worldwide. The continued identification of the most common G and P serotypes for inclusion in vaccines is an important priority. And subsequent to the introduction of a vaccine candidate, not only monitoring of circulating strains is recommended, but also surveillance of potential reassortment of animal rotavirus genes from the vaccine into human rotavirus strains is critical. Conventional methods used in the characterisation of rotavirus strains, such as enzyme immunoassay serotyping and reverse‐transcription PCR‐based genotyping often fail to identify uncommon and newly appearing strains. The application of newer molecular approaches, including sequencing and oligonucleotide microarray hybridisation, may be required to characterise such strains. The present paper presents a brief overview of the variety of standard methods available, followed by suggestions for a systematic approach for routine rotavirus strain surveillance as well as for characterisation of incompletely typed rotavirus strains. Improved detection and characterisation of incompletely typed strains will help to develop a comprehensive strain surveillance that may be required for tailoring effective rotavirus vaccines.