Poly(2-ethyl-2-oxazoline), a synthetic polymer was analysed by mass spectrometry using different ion sources. Two distributions could be identified in the mass spectra which related to two different polymer series (one with hydrogen and hydroxyl end-groups and the other with methyl and hydroxyl end-groups). The fragmentation behaviour of the protonated oligomers was studied in a quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometer (MS) with electrospray, atmospheric pressure chemical ionization and direct analysis in real time soft ionization techniques. Three product ion series were identified in the MS/MS spectra independently of the ion source used. Based on the results, a mechanism was proposed for the dissociation by means of the accurate mass of the product ions, pseudo MS3 experiments and the energy dependence of the product ion intensity, i.e. breakdown curves. The survival yield method was used to highlight the correlation between the size of the oligomers and the laboratory frame collision energy. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.