We present an empirical model for the waveguiding properties of directly UV-written planar waveguides in silica-on-silicon. The waveguides are described by a rectangular core step-index profile, in which model parameters are found by comparison of the measured waveguide width and effective index with modal field calculations. The model is used as input for beam propagation method calculations to design UV-written optical components. Subsequent fabrication of such components showed a good agreement with the model predictions. Using the model will reduce the number of iterations and thereby the development time of new optical devices. (C) 2002 Optical Society of America.