Plasma deposited nitrogen-rich silicon nitride thin films were prepared at temperatures between 80 and 300 degrees C. The infrared transmission (400-4000 cm(-1)) was measured, and selected absorption bands were quantified through a multiple Lorentzian oscillator parametric analysis. It is observed that the concentration of silicon-centered tetrahedra bonded together through nitrogen atoms increases monotonically with increasing deposition temperature. A qualitative model is presented to highlight the impact of the active adsorption site density on the degree of stepped (ordered) nucleation at the vapor-film interface. The importance of this growth profile, in particular for micro-systems-technology, is discussed in conjunction with measurements of the biaxial modulus and residual stress of the thin films. A mechanism for residual stress controllability is also presented. The atomic concentrations of silicon, nitrogen, and hydrogen in the thin films were calculated using infrared calibration factors derived from the deposition temperature dependent condensation processes. The results for silicon nitride thin films deposited at 300 degrees C were observed to be similar in composition to silicon diimide. Additional observations of the infrared transmission characteristics are reported, which include the identification of silazane bridge characteristics for the absorption feature around 610 cm(-1), which is typically associated with Si-H (bending) absorption. (C) 2005 American Institute of Physics.