We report that short, synthetic, double- as well as single-stranded DNA can be aligned in stretched humid poly(vinyl alcohol) (PVA) matrix, and the secondary structure (nucleobase orientation) can be characterized with linear dichroism (LD) spectroscopy. Oligonucleotides of lengths varying between 10 (3.4 nm) and 60 bases (20.4 nm) were investigated with respect to structural properties in the gel-like polymer environment. The DNA conformation as a function of relative humidity reveals a strong dependence of helical structure of DNA on PVA hydration level, results of relevance for nanotechnical studies of DNA-based supramolecular systems. Also, the PVA gel could provide possibilities to test models for nucleic acid interactions and distribution in cell contexts, including structural stability of genetic material in the cell and PVA-packaging for gene delivery. A method by which duplex oligonucleotides, with sequences designed to provide specific binding sites, become amenable to polarized-light spectroscopy opens up new possibilities for studying structure in DNA complexes with small adduct molecules as well as proteins. © 2012 American Chemical Society.