In fragment-assembly techniques for protein structure prediction, models of protein structure are assembled from fragments of known protein structures. This process is typically guided by a knowledge-based energy function and uses a heuristic optimization method. The fragments play two important roles in this process: they define the set of structural parameters available, and they also assume the role of the main variation operators that are used by the optimiser. Previous analysis has typically focused on the first of these roles. In particular, the relationship between local amino acid sequence and local protein structure has been studied by a range of authors. The correlation between the two has been shown to vary with the window length considered, and the results of these analyses have informed directly the choice of fragment length in state-of-the-art prediction techniques. Here, we focus on the second role of fragments and aim to determine the effect of fragment length from an optimization perspective. We use theoretical analyses to reveal how the size and structure of the search space changes as a function of insertion length. Furthermore, empirical analyses are used to explore additional ways in which the size of the fragment insertion influences the search both in a simulation model and for the fragment-assembly technique, Rosetta. Proteins 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.