We report thermal annealing and 100 MeV Si8+ swift heavy ion irradiation effects on the structural and magnetic properties of Ni-implanted HfO2 thin films. At low Ni doping concentration (∼1%), HfO2 thin films show ferromagnetic behavior. We clearly demonstrate the cluster free nature of our film using cross-sectional high resolution transmission microscopy and magnetization vs. temperature data. Rutherford backscattering spectrometry is used to estimate the film thickness and to establish that Ni-ions are placed in the HfO2 matrix. By comparing the results for the annealed and swift heavy ion irradiated samples, it is concluded that the enhancement in magnetic signal is closely related to the dispersion/diffusion of implanted Ni and defect creation such as oxygen vacancies. The results of magnetic force microscopy supported the observation of room temperature ferromagnetism in Ni-implanted HfO2 films. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.