We have developed an assay in which incomplete preprolactin chains of varying lengths are targeted to the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane in an elongation independent manner. The reaction had the same molecular requirements as nascent chain translocation across the ER membrane, namely, it was signal recognition particle (SRP) dependent, and required the nascent chain to be present as peptidyl tRNA (i.e. most likely ribosome associated) and to have its signal sequence exposed outside the ribosome. We found that the efficiency of the targeting reaction dropped dramatically as the chains grew longer than 140 amino acids in length, which probably reflected a decrease in affinity of the nascent chain-ribosome complex for SRP. Thus at physiological SRP concentrations (10 nM) there appears a sharp cut-off point in the ability of these chains to be targeted, while at high SRP concentrations (270 nM) all chains could be targeted. In kinetic experiments, high concentrations of SRP were found to change the time in elongation after which translocation of the nascent polypeptide could no longer occur.