Plasma diagnostics for large area, industrial RF parallel-plate reactors can be useful for process optimization and monitoring, provided that their implementation is practical and non-intrusive. For instance, Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) absorption spectroscopy and/or time-resolved optical emission spectroscopy (OES) can easily be retro-fitted into the pumping line of a reactor. Both techniques were used to measure the fractional depletion of silane in silane/hydrogen plasmas. By means of a simple analytical plasma chemistry model, it is shown that the silane depletion is related to the silicon thin film properties such as microcrystallinity. Uses of the diagnostics are demonstrated by two examples: (i) the optimal plasma parameters for high deposition rate of microcrystalline silicon, along with efficient gas utilization, are shown to be high input concentration and strong depletion of silane; and (ii) the optimal reactor design, in terms of fast equilibration of the plasma chemistry, is shown to be a closed, directly-pumped showerhead reactor containing a uniform plasma. (C) 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.