We compared the success rates and energy requirements of two electrode-paddle positions (anteroposterior vs. anterolateral) and different paddle sizes in the elective cardioversion of atrial arrhythmias. We prospectively studied 173 patients - 111 in atrial fibrillation and 62 in atrial flutter. The anterolateral paddles used were either two standard-size (8.5-cm diameter) paddles or one 13-cm diameter anterior paddle with one standard-size lateral paddle. The anteroposterior paddles used were either a standard-size or a 13-cm anterior paddle with 12-cm posterior paddle. Overall cardioversion success rates with either paddle position were similar (greater than 90 per cent). The larger paddles did not significantly reduce energy requirements for cardioversion of either arrhythmia. We conclude that anterolateral paddles are as effective as anteroposterior paddles for the elective cardioversion of atrial arrhythmias, and that there is no demonstrable advantage to using paddles that are larger than the standard size in either position.