The effect of chain lengths of fatty acids on the physical properties of CdSe and ZnCdSe semiconductor nanocrystals (NCs) synthesized by the colloidal chemistry procedure is investigated. The fatty acids, lauric acid (LA), and stearic acid (SA), with different lengths of carbon chains, are used to prepare CdSe and ZnCdSe NCs when hexyldecylamine (HDA) is applied as the sole surfactant. For CdSe–SA and ZnCdSe–SA, they have the same emission wavelength at 592 nm and the same particle size of 3.3 nm; however, their quantum yield (QY) is 75 and 16 %, respectively. In contrast, the emission wavelength of CdSe–LA and ZnCdSe–LA NCs is 609 and 615 nm, the particle size is about 3.5 and 4 nm under the same reaction time, and the QY of them are 33 and 59 %, respectively. The X-ray diffraction pattern shows that ZnCdSe NCs all have the wurtzite structure, and their main peaks are located between those of pure CdSe and ZnSe materials. The main phase of ZnCdSe–SA and ZnCdSe–LA is ZnSe and CdSe, respectively, implying that alloyed ZnCdSe NC can be prepared and ZnSe and CdSe phase can be promoted by SA and LA, respectively. Moreover, the QY of red-emission ZnCdSe–LA is higher than 50 %. These results suggest that the growth rate of CdSe as well as ZnCdSe NC can be enhanced by using LA as complex reagent and HDA as sole surfactant. It is expected that the reported effective synthetic strategy can be developed as a very practical, easy and not time-consuming approach to prepare red emissive NCs with high QY and high reproducibility.