There have been rapid recent developments in establishing methods for identifying and characterising viruses associated with animal and human diseases. These methodologies, commonly based on hybridisation or PCR techniques, are combined with advanced sequencing techniques termed ‘next generation sequencing’. Allied advances in data analysis, including the use of computational transcriptome subtraction, have also impacted the field of viral pathogen discovery. This review details these molecular detection techniques, discusses their application in viral discovery, and provides an overview of some of the novel viruses discovered. The problems encountered in attributing disease causality to a newly identified virus are also considered.