Effects of different annealing atmospheres on the surface and microstructural properties of ZnO thin films grown on Si (1 0 0) substrates were investigated. X-ray diffraction results showed that the crystallinity of the ZnO thin film annealed in an oxygen atmosphere was better than that annealed in a nitrogen atmosphere. Atomic force microscopy and transmission electron microscopy (TEM) images showed that the surfaces of the ZnO thin films annealed in a nitrogen atmosphere became very rough in contrast to those annealed in an oxygen atmosphere. High-resolution TEM images showed that many stacking faults and tilted grains could be observed in the ZnO thin films annealed in a nitrogen atmosphere in contrast to those annealed in an oxygen atmosphere. Surface morphology and microstructural property variations due to different annealing atmospheres in ZnO thin films are also described on the basis of the experimental results. (C) 2011 Elsevier B. V. All rights reserved.