The advances in the characterization of amorphous carbons by Raman spectroscopy over the last four decades are of interest to many industries, especially those involving the combustion, gasification and pyrolysis of coal. Many researchers report on the Raman character of the natural organic matter in carbon-containing compounds, such as coal, and relate the Raman bands to the structural order of the amorphous carbons. The basis of most of these studies evolved around the assignment of the G (graphitic, ∼1580 cm−1) band to crystalline graphite and any other bands, called D bands, (disorder, various from 1100 to 1500 cm−1) to any type of structural disorder in the graphitic structure. Concerning coal analysis, the information gained by Raman investigations has been used to describe char evolution as a function of temperature, the presence of catalysts and different gasification conditions. In addition, researchers looked at maturation, grade, doppleritization and many more aspects of interest. One aspect that has, however, not been addressed by most of the researchers is the natural inorganic matter (NIM) in the carbon-containing compounds. Micro-Raman spectroscopy (MRS) has many advantages over other characterization tools, i.e. in situ analysis, nondestructive, no sample preparation, low detection limit, micrometer-scale characterization, versatility and sensitivity to many amorphous compounds. With the distinct advantages it has over that of other molecular characterization tools, such as powder X-ray diffraction (PXRD), Fourier-transform infrared spectrometry (FT-IR) and scanning electron microscopy with X-ray detection (SEM/EDS), it is surprising that it has not yet been fully exploited up to this point for the characterization of the NIM in coal and other amorphous carbons. This paper reviews the work published on the Raman characterization of the natural organic matter (NOM) of coals and reports on preliminary results of the NIM character of various South African coals, whereby various inorganic compounds and minerals in the coal have been characterized. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.