Abstract Scanning electron microscopy (SEM)/energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (EDS) is generally thought of as a bulk analysis technique that is not suited for nano-scale analysis. This paper discusses several options for reducing or eliminating the interaction volume size and obtaining x-ray data with much higher spatial resolution and surface sensitivity than is typically achieved in the SEM. These include collecting data at very low accelerating voltages to minimize beam spread in the sample, tilting the sample to keep the interaction volume near the surface, and analyzing thin sections to reduce or eliminate the problem of beam spread in the sample. Computer software simulations, in conjunction with experimental data are used to illustrate these methods. The paper also discusses issues effecting EDS analysis in the environmental SEM. It has been shown that computer modeling is a useful tool for determining the optimum beam conditions to improve energy dispersive analysis in the SEM.