Atmospheric organic nitrogen (ON) appears to be a ubiquitous but poorly understood component of the atmospheric nitrogen deposition flux. Here, we focus on the ON components that dominate deposition and do not consider reactive atmospheric gases containing ON such as peroxyacyl nitrates that are important in atmospheric nitrogen transport, but are probably not particularly important in deposition. We first review the approaches to the analysis and characterization of atmospheric ON. We then briefly summarize the available data on the concentrations of ON in both aerosols and rainwater from around the world, and the limited information available on its chemical characterization. This evidence clearly shows that atmospheric aerosol and rainwater ON is a complex mixture of material from multiple sources. This synthesis of available information is then used to try and identify some of the important sources of this material, in particular, if it is of predominantly natural or anthropogenic origin. Finally, we suggest that the flux of ON is about 25 per cent of the total nitrogen deposition flux.