Raman spectroscopy is a powerful characterization tool for improving the understanding of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), capable of providing direct, molecularly specific information regarding the physical and chemical processes occurring within functional SOFCs in real time. In this paper we give a summary of the technique itself and highlight ex situ and in situ studies that are particularly relevant for SOFCs. This is followed by a case study of carbon formation on SOFC Ni-based anodes exposed to carbon monoxide (CO) using both ex situ and in situ Raman spectroscopy combined with computational simulations. In situ measurements clearly show that carbon formation is significantly reduced for polarized SOFCs compared to those held at open circuit potential (OCP). Ex situ Raman mapping of the surfaces showed clear variations in the rate of carbon formation across the surface of polarized anodes. Computational simulations describing the geometry of the cell showed that this is due to variations in gas access. These results demonstrate the ability of Raman spectroscopy in combination with traditional characterization tools, to provide detailed understanding of critical processes occurring within functional SOFCs. Copyright © 2013 WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA, Weinheim.