Procedures are described for interpretation of mass spectra from collision-induced dissociation of polycharged oligonucleotides produced by electrospray ionization. The method is intended for rapid sequencing of oligonucleotides of completely unknown structure at approximately the 15-mer level and below, front DNA or RNA. Identification of sequence-relevant ions that are produced from extensive fragmentation in the quadrupole -collision cell are based primarily on (1) recognition of 3'- and 5'- terminal residues as initial steps in mass ladder propagation, (2) alignment of overlapping nucleotide chains that have been constructed independently from each terminus, and (3) use of experimentally measured molecular mass in rejection of incorrect sequence candidates. Algorithms for sequence derivation are embodied in a computer program that requires < 2 s for execution. The interpretation procedures are demonstrated for sequence location of simple forms of modification in the base and sugar. The potential for direct sequencing of components of mixtures is shown using an unresolved fraction of unknown oligonucleotides from ribosomal RNA.