Abstract Halogen-bearing gases have proved to be useful plasma discharge etchants for the fabrication of sub-micron poly-Si gate structures. In this paper, investigations of chlorine-based plasmas generated by an electron cyclotron resonance (ECR) reactor for poly-Si etching is studied. The influences of added oxygen, microwave power and RF power on etching characteristics are discussed. In addition, the etching mechanisms of the underlying oxide are developed. Finally, the Cl 2/HBr/O 2 mixed system is examined. The combined plasma exhibits the features of high selectivity, high anisotropy and high etching rate.