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This work addresses the issues of whether spectroscopic ellipsometry, using the effective medium approximation (SE-EMA), may be used meaningfully to analyze plasma-enhanced chemical vapor deposition silicon nitride films. We use Rutherford backscattering spectrometry and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy as reference methods and compare the results to the results of SE-EMA analyses and Auger analyses. The results are that Auger analysis, using properly determined sensitivity factors, gives compositions which are within the uncertainty of the reference methods. SE-EMA, on the other hand, always overestimates the oxide contribution and underestimates the nitride contribution. Probable causes are discussed. © 1999 American Vacuum Society.