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This paper describes a macroscopic model of parallel‐plate, radio frequency (rf), oxygen plasma discharges. The model predicts fundamental plasma characteristics as a function of controllable parameters such as pressure, power, and electrode spacing. The simulation results given by the model are in good agreement with the measured plasma characteristics. The experimental reactor has been designed to minimize the self‐bias of the powered electrode, hence the discharge is effectively symmetric. The model has been applied to the development of etch processes for dry‐develop lithography applications. In particular, simulations of ion flow and energy have provided insight in the behavior of etch rates as a function of controllable parameters. A particular simulation result is that the power imparted to the electrodes by the ions is substantially less than the power delivered by the rf generator, which is in agreement with previously reported experimental results.