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Magnetic layer grain size plays an important role in determining the materials properties of longitudinal magnetic thin film media. Therefore, accurate and appropriate microstructural analysis is crucial to understanding the effects of changes in sputtering parameters. In this work we introduce a cumulative percentage frequency plot that is superior in representing and comparing grain size distributions. The advantages of the cumulative method are demonstrated by discussing the outcome of applying a CoCr interlayer between the magnetic layer and the underlayer. Cumulative percentage frequency plots show that a log-normal distribution fits the grain size data best. In addition, applying an interlayer was found to result in improved magnetic properties. © 2000 American Institute of Physics.