A sample is illuminated with a laser beam. Light from the illuminated spot is collected with a lens and sent through a monochromator. Wavelengths close to the laser line, due to elastic Rayleigh scattering, are filtered out while the rest of the collected light is dispersed onto a detector.
The Raman effect occurs when light impinges upon a molecule and interacts with the electron cloud and the bonds of that molecule. For the spontaneous Raman effect, which is a form of light scattering, a photon excites the molecule from the ground state to a virtual energy state. When the molecule relaxes it emits a photon and it returns to a different rotational or vibrational state. The difference in energy between the original state and this new state leads to a shift in the emitted photon's frequency away from the excitation wavelength. The Raman effect, which is a light scattering phenomenon, should not be confused with absorption (as with fluorescence) where the molecule is excited to a discrete (not virtual) energy level.
If the final vibrational state of the molecule is more energetic than the initial state, then the emitted photon will be shifted to a lower frequency in order for the total energy of the system to remain balanced. This shift in frequency is designated as a Stokes shift. If the final vibrational state is less energetic than the initial state, then the emitted photon will be shifted to a higher frequency, and this is designated as an Anti-Stokes shift. Raman scattering is an example of inelastic scattering because of the energy transfer between the photons and the molecules during their interaction.