The depth profile of the chemical composition in InxGa1-xAs single quantum wells (SQWs), epitaxially grown onto a GaAs substrate and covered by a GaAs cap layer, has been determined by use of grazing incidence diffraction (GID). This method allows the scattering signal from the SQW to be enhanced and the scattering depth to be tailored. The coherently illuminated area is large, due to the small incident angle αi; this makes GID a unique technique for investigating buried thin layers over a lateral length scale of several microns. In the case of very thin SQWs the measurements could be described assuming a Gaussian-like distribution of the In content with depth. The broad In profile seen using this method is in contrast with the sharp monolayer signal achieved by photoluminescence measurements. This can be explained by the assumption of a terracelike In distribution and the very different lateral integration length of both experiments. For thicker SQWs we could verify that at least one of the two interfaces is not sharp but shows a gradient in the chemical composition. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.