Reactively-sputtered, polycrystalline thin film aluminum nitride (AlN) is an attractive material for use in acoustic wave devices, for which it requires a strong preferred orientation, similar to that found in epitaxial films. This investigation evaluated the grain structure including preferred orientation, grain size, and surface morphology of sputtered A1N films. The characterization techniques utilized included x-ray diffraction (XRD), secondary ion mass spectroscopy (SIMS), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), and atomic force microscopy (AFM). The results revealed two types of grain structure: 1) a single-grain columnar structure that is perfectly oriented in the  direction throughout the entire film thickness and 2) a multiple-grain columnar structure that possesses a strong  orientation at the bottom of the film and a tilted  combined with other orientations at the top of the film. Strong correlations between orientation and surface morphology, oxygen content, and grain size were observed, namely higher degrees of c-axis orientation correlated with lower mean surface roughness values, reduced oxygen concentration, and narrower grains.