This research describes the effects of structural variation and medium effects for the novel split-oligonucleotide (tandem) probe systems for exciplex-based fluorescence detection of DNA. In this approach the detection system is split at a molecular level into signal-silent components, which must be assembled correctly into a specific 3-dimensional structure to ensure close proximity of the exciplex partners and the consequent exciplex fluorescence emission on excitation. The model system consists of two 8-mer oligonucleotides, complementary to adjacent sites of a 16-mer DNA target. Each probe oligonucleotide is equipped with functions able to form an exciplex on correct, contiguous hybridization. This study investigates the influence of a number of structural aspects (i.e. chemical structure and composition of exciplex partners, length and structure of linker groups, locations of exciplex partner attachment, as well as effects of media) on the performance of DNA-mounted exciplex systems. The extremely rigorous structural demands for exciplex formation and emission required careful structural design of linkers and partners for exciplex formation, which are here described. Certain organic solvents (especially trifluoroethanol) specifically favour emission of the DNA-mounted exciplexes, probably the net result of the particular duplex structure and specific solvation of the exciplex partners. The exciplexes formed emitted at ∼480 nm with large Stokes shifts (∼130-140 nm). Comparative studies with pyrene excimer systems were also carried out. This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry.