The basis of HIV exposure category classification was investigated among selected cases of newly diagnosed HIV infection. Questionnaires seeking specific information on patient-reported exposure to HIV were forwarded to doctors who had requested the HIV antibody test for patients who met the study sample criteria. The cases of interest were those newly diagnosed between 1 January and 31 October 1991 and notified to state and territory health authorities as having been attributed to exposures to HIV other than male homosexual contact or receipt of blood, blood products or tissue. A total of 158 questionnaires was forwarded and 59 per cent were returned. Among the returned questionnaires included in the study sample, exposure to HIV on the original notification to the health authority was given as injecting drug use (8 per cent, 3 of 37), heterosexual contact (46 per cent, 17 of 37), or unavailable (46 per cent, 17 of 37). A clear basis for HIV exposure category classification was provided on the questionnaires for 70 per cent (7 of 10) of cases among women, whereas among men whose infection was attributed to heterosexual contact, a basis for exposure category classification was specified for only 43 per cent (10 of 23) of cases. Although the study was limited by the low response rate, use of the questionnaire provided a relatively simple means for assessing self-reported HIV exposure history.