How to write an effective online profile (with examples)

Feb. 18, 2004 at 4:32 AM ET

Woman with lap top
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Woman with lap top

If you've ever looked for love on the Web, you already know that the key to online dating success is an excellent profile—one that presents you in your best light while giving would-be suitors a glimpse of what it'll take to win your heart. Easier said than done. Why not turn to the pros who have researched the online dating world and know what works—and what doesn't? In I Can't Believe I'm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating, author Evan Marc Katz includes strategies on how to write a terrific online personal ad, and he even offers samples.

When consulting with Internet daters, I take great pains to try to help people spruce up their profiles. There are usually a bunch of things that can be altered, but most folks have a large blind spot when it comes to writing about themselves honestly, objectively and eloquently. Not only that, but very often the most articulate online daters write whatever comes out of their hearts without thinking of the effect their words are going to have on the reader.

I have deconstructed different profiles and attempted to analyze why I think they succeed. I took examples from all different demographics, men and women, twenties to sixties, to illustrate that as long as a person writes with a distinct voice the content can vary, but the result will still be positive. What works for one person does not necessarily work for everybody, but the general principles remain the same.

Use specifics. Be sincere and honest. Write like you talk. Show your personality. If you make jokes, make them tasteful, self-deprecating or sarcastic, and do so with caution. Figure out what makes you different from everyone else, and use it to your advantage. Again, stay away from generic adjectives and focus more on proper nouns and stories. If you're going to be wordy, have something interesting to say. Stay consistently positive and confident without seeming annoying and arrogant. Be proud of who you are and wear it confidently in your language and tone. Don't give anyone a reason to say no to you. No red flags, no obvious baggage, no glaring insecurities, no diatribes about past relationships, no spelling mistakes, no superficial wish list about money or looks.

You should have fun writing your profile. If you have fun writing it, the reader will likely have fun reading it.

Username: 1in6Billion
Headline: A Barrel of Monkeys Has Nothing on Me
Vitals: Female, 35, Boston, MA

About Me:
Weird things happen to me; nothing that you should be afraid of, but just realize that if we get together, you're in for a wild ride. I've driven a go-kart for six laps with the back of the car in flames. My VW has broken down in front of a dozen honking customers in the drive-thru line at McDonald's (I've since upgraded to a better model). I work in public relations. I spend my days getting press coverage for people in the film and television industries, but the truth is, I'd rather be making my own headlines. My ultimate goal is to move to Los Angeles to be a writer/producer of feature films. Storytelling is my passion, but it won't be easy to leave my family behind because they are my anchor and the paradigm of everything that I aspire to be. I'm fortunate to have them in my life, not to mention a legion of close friends from high school and college. I'm pragmatic but spontaneous. Nurturing but competitive. Peaceful but energetic. I love staying up late—whether it's to party, have sex or just read a good book—but I almost always sleep in on weekends. I definitely have an adventurous streak—whether it's trying out an exotic recipe in the kitchen, running with my dog or traveling the world thanks to my good friends at Orbitz and Priceline. My dream trip is taking the Orient Express from Paris to Venice to Budapest, then relaxing on a Greek island with nothing but sunscreen, James Patterson books and InStyle magazine. Are you in?

About the One I'm Looking For:
I'd rather be with a guy who has big dreams and no money than a guy with no dreams and big money. I must admit, I like a bit of a bad boy—not an awful, I'm-going-to-treat-you-like-crap kind of guy, but someone who's going to push me to my limits and then pull back with a warm hug at the last minute. Truth is, I'm just a nice girl (most of the time) who's looking for some fun and companionship (not necessarily in that order). I love funny guys who can hold me spellbound with a story or make me laugh until I cry. I also love creativity and passion. Maybe it's your love of '80s movies, your baseball card collection or the fact that you moved across country with only a duffel bag—it doesn't matter. The right man not only fascinates me but also brings out the best in me. We push each other to be the greatest people we can be. We bolster each other's egos and we leave short, thoughtful love messages for each other when we're away on business trips. If you're comfortable in your own skin, have a strong sense of self and aren't afraid to expose your flaws, I'm sure we'll get along just fine. But I will say that if you've got blue eyes, are a Red Sox fan or a part-time singer/guitarist, I'm already melting.

My Idea of Our Perfect First Date:
We've built up such chemistry on the phone that when I open the door and see you, I grab you by the back of the neck and kiss you before I even leave the house. (Note: Don't you DARE try this—some fantasies are best left as fantasies.)

My Perception of an Ideal Relationship:
Complete and utter comfort. I can be myself around you without feeling judged. You can sit in your room working while I do a crossword and I'm entirely content. I only have eyes for you, you only have eyes for me and we communicate this verbally, physically and often. Down and dirty sex and warm and comforting cuddling are ever present. Fights are rare and when we do get into it, we don't stop talking until we've reached some sort of peace. Unparalleled companionship, unprecedented generosity and unconditional love grant us the foundation for a lasting long-term relationship.

What I've Learned from Past Relationships:
Flossing is important. Laughing is essential. Perfection is impossible. Better to be single than to be in a bad relationship. If it's worth it, I'll work for it; if it's not, I won't. Don't say anything you'll regret because you can't take it back. Finally, you must expose yourself emotionally—it's the only way to reap love's greatest rewards.

1in6Billion's essays scream out: fun! Leading with a pair of I Love Lucy type anecdotes is a smart move because it immediately captures the reader's attention and establishes that this is a woman who knows how to laugh at herself. Such funny stories are also a logical lead-in to her career goal of being a Hollywood writer. Her high aspirations, however, are tempered by her down-to-earth nature and her attachment to her family. Great use of specifics in the last line of her "About Me" essay, which describes an adventuresome person looking for someone to share the ride. What comes across clearly is that she's looking for more of an equal than an opposite. Just as the author describes herself as creative, a dreamer and an adventurer, she suggests that her ideal man should be like-minded. Little touches round out her second essay—baseball cards, love messages on business trips, part-time guitarist. Using the word "melting" shows a hint of vulnerability and a flair for the romantic as well. While she pushes the sexual envelope in her subsequent essays, she also expresses a deep wisdom and maturity about what it takes to sustain a long-term relationship. Overall, she would appear to be a woman who has experienced a lot in life and is open to all forms of excitement and happiness.

Username: PowerNerd
Headline: Objects in This Mirror Are Not as Dorky As They Might Appear
Vitals: Male, 43, Bloomington, IN

About Me:
Once you get past the self-deprecating humor, you will soon learn that I'm a raging egomaniac. Nah, that's not true, either. How do you just say that you're a nice, successful guy looking to share his life with his future soul mate? I guess that would do it. I'm the proud dad of a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl, and my wife and I have been amicably divorced for a year now. I'm past the breakup and excited to meet some good people on here. Friendship is not at all out of the question. It's welcomed. My business isn't glamorous—I own my own Web design firm—but it is lucrative, and I love the challenge of running my own company. I'm not married to my work, and even when I was actually married, I found time for tae kwon do (yes, nice guys can kick ass!), classic movies (you MUST see Sunset Boulevard and The Philadelphia Story if you haven't yet) and the occasional fishing excursion (nothing like a little time alone to recharge your batteries). Things are different now, but I look forward to taking some chances and seeing who's out there.

About the One I'm Looking For:
I smile when I think of you. I walk down College Avenue and I want to buy you a $400 purse that you pointed out but would never get for yourself. You like my kids. You put up with my mom. (She means well; really, she does!) You fawn over me, cook me dinner, massage me before bed and have a highly developed sense of sarcasm. I think it's cute when you snort as you laugh. You make fun of me when I can't leave the house without forgetting my cell phone. You act younger than you look because I like mature women who haven't forgotten what it's like to be a girl.

My Idea of a Perfect First Date:
It doesn't involve a chain restaurant, a roller coaster or a movie. It may involve eating, excitement or entertainment. It definitely involves me, you and a long, drawn-out moment where we don't want to say good night.

My Perception of an Ideal Relationship:
After a 10-year relationship, I may be rusty about this courting stuff, but I'm not jaded by divorce. It's even clearer to me that there's not just one person out there. And even if you get lucky and meet a winner, there's a mountain of work ahead, no matter what. It's knowing that the work is worth it, that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, which redeems the institution of marriage. I'm not looking to jump into anything, but I'm a firm believer in chemistry and wouldn't turn my back on someone incredible just because I'm recently single. A perfect relationship is one in which the reality is not that far from your fantasy. As long as you have a realistic fantasy, you are bound to one day find your bliss.

What I've Learned from Past Relationships:
It's better to understand than to be understood. Laughter can save a relationship; lack of laughter can kill it. Having kids makes you a better person, but it will also complicate your marriage in ways impossible to understand from the outside. The Hoosiers will tear your heart out, but it's fun to have something outside yourself to root for together. Soup can actually be an aphrodisiac if served at the right time of night. And finally, this being-single thing isn't going to be nearly as bad as I thought it might be...

What PowerNerd does extraordinarily well is to remain extremely optimistic despite being a newly divorced father. You don't hear him talking about his awful ex-wife or his annoyance at the online dating process. In the first essay, he discusses finding a soul mate. In the fourth essay, he talks about the validity of marriage. In the fifth essay, he closes on a note of optimism as well. What's not to like about someone who has overcome such big obstacles and has maintained a smile in the process? Plus, he's a combination of humility—witness his headline—and assuredness, as shown by his career as an entrepreneur and a martial artist. Those touches, in addition to doses of humor about his forgetfulness, his meddling mother and the sexual properties of soup, make him a genuine catch for any woman who is looking to settle down with a nice, normal, grounded man. Subtle use of details regarding his love of Indiana basketball, his willingness to give (a $400 purse?) and his occasional need for personal space add to the profile. Alternating tones between warmth and sarcasm doesn't feel like a contradiction as much as it seems to be the sign of a fully formed human being.

Evan Marc Katz is a contributing writer for iVillage. Follow him on Google +.

Reprinted with permission from I Can't Believe I'm Buying This Book: A Commonsense Guide to Successful Internet Dating. Copyright © 2003 by Evan Marc Katz, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.