The detailed characterization of macromolecules plays an important role for synthetic chemists to define and specify the structure and properties of the successfully synthesized polymers. The search for new characterization techniques for polymers is essential for the continuation of the development of improved synthesis methods. The application of tandem mass spectrometry for the detailed characterization of synthetic polymers using the soft ionization techniques matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry (MALDI-MS) and electrospray ionization mass spectrometry (ESI-MS), which became the basic tools in proteomics, has greatly been increased in recent years and is summarized in this perspective. Examples of a variety of homopolymers, such as poly(methyl methacrylate), poly(ethylene glycol), as well as copolymers, e.g. copolyesters, are given. The advanced mass spectrometric techniques described in this review will presumably become one of the basic tools in polymer chemistry in the near future. Copyright © 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.