Despite over a century of published reports of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in precipitation, its implications are still being appraised. The number of studies focusing on atmospheric organic nitrogen deposition has increased steadily in recent years, but comparatively little has been done to draw together this disparate knowledge. This is partly a consequence of valid concerns about the comparability of analysis and sampling methodologies. Given the current global trends in anthropogenic nitrogen fixation, an improved qualitative and quantitative understanding of the organic nitrogen component is needed to complement the well-established knowledge base pertaining to nitrate and ammonium deposition. This global review confirms the quantitative importance of bulk DON in precipitation. This cumulative data set also helps to resolve some of the uncertainty that arises from the generally locally and temporally limited scale of the individual studies. Because of analytical and procedural changes in recent decades, assessments are made of the comparability of the data sets; caution is needed in comparisons of individual studies, but the overall trends in the compiled set are more robust. Despite the large number of reports considered, evidence for long-term temporal changes in rainwater organic nitrogen concentrations is ambiguous. With regard to sources, it is likely that some of the organic material observed is not locally generated, but undergoes extensive or long-range atmospheric transport. The compiled data set shows a land-to-sea gradient in organic nitrogen concentration. Possible precursors, reported data on the most likely component groups, and potential source mechanisms are also outlined.