It is well established that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a familial and highly heritable disorder. Consequently, much effort is being directed towards searching for specific susceptibility genes. There is a growing trend, across the field of complex disease genetics, towards undertaking secondary analyses based on refined phenotypic definitions and in testing whether specific susceptibility genes modify the phenotypic presentation of the disorder in question. It is crucial that good, empirically derived arguments are made before undertaking multiple analyses on different phenotype refinements. In this review article, we consider the evidence from genetic epidemiological studies as well as key clinical studies that provide guidance on examining the ADHD phenotype for the purpose of molecular genetic studies. Specifically, findings on categorical versus dimensional conceptualisations of ADHD, reporter effects, comorbidity, ADHD subtypes and persistence are reviewed. Current evidence suggests that for the purpose of identifying susceptibility genes for ADHD, parent and teachers should be used as informants and that focusing on the clinical diagnosis of ADHD is useful. There is also good empirical support in favour of examining antisocial behaviour in ADHD. Genetic studies of dimensional ADHD are useful for other complementary purposes.