Online dating? Eight tips to craft the perfect first message

What to write, and what NOT to say

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Should you "wink" or send them a message? And if you send a message, should you be serious, or try to be funny, or flirtatious? Is it too soon to suggest going out for a coffee? Sending the first email when you're online dating can be daunting, especially if you've been out of the game for a while! Here are eight tips to help you get it right...

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See also: Dating in your 50s-plus? What NOT to ask on a first date

See also: Dating after divorce - dos and don'ts

1. Complete your profile before you message anyone
When you send someone an email, the first thing they will do is look at your profile. It may sound obvious, but it's surprising how many people make the mistake of contacting potential dates before they've even uploaded a photo.

Contact someone when your profile barely says anything or doesn't include any photos, and the person is likely to hit 'delete' presuming you're a time-waster, or worse, trying to pull some kind of scam.

2. Hook them with an interesting subject line
"Hello" is not the most interesting subject line for an email. Make the effort to write something relevant to the person. For example, if they love a particular movie, could you use a famous line of dialogue from it? You don't have to be earth-shatteringly witty, just write something that shows you've taken the time to read their profile – as opposed to just looking at their pics.

3. Use their name
Studies show that we're more likely to warm to someone who uses our name in conversation. Use that to your advantage when writing your opening. Instead of saying a generic "Hi," use their username and write: Hello "sweetcup77".

4. Compliment them – carefully
Everyone loves a compliment, but don't get too personal. If a stranger walked up to you in a bar and said you had an amazing figure, you might well look for the nearest exit. When it comes to giving compliments, stick to "you have a great smile" or "dazzling eyes" rather than getting specific about body parts/shape.

If there was something in particular about their profile that caught your interest, do tell them. Did they write something so funny it made you spit out your tea? Or had you despaired of ever meeting a woman into motorbikes? If so, be sure to tell them.

5. Ask questions
You're not applying for a job and this is not an interview – so don't feel that you have to promote yourself in your email. As mentioned, they will visit your profile and can read about you there. Instead, take the opportunity to ask questions.

You could start by commenting on what it was about their profile that interested you, and then asking a question. If they mention liking a comedian you've seen live, perhaps you could ask if they've seen them on tour too. Think beyond yes/no question. For example, if they've travelled around India, you could ask if there's anywhere they'd still really like to see, or which part was their favourite and why. Make it relevant, by saying if you've visited the same place or similar, or if you've always wanted to go.

6. Don't waffle on
First messages should be short and sweet. A few paragraphs (about 100 words) should be long enough to include a compliment, to say what caught your eye about their profile, mention something you have in common, and to ask a leading question. A shortish message is intriguing but don't write too little – otherwise, you'll look lazy.

7. Be cheerful and positive – but don't try too hard
While using humour can be a great way to break the ice, remember that you don't know the person yet – or what they might find funny or offensive. Be enthusiastic and cheerful – and a bit cheeky if you like – but don't go overboard.

Wait to see what kind of message you get in reply. If they're flirtatious and enjoy your sense of humour, then be all means go for it! First messages are about sounding someone out – save your best stand-up material for the first date.

8. Time it right
If you're hoping for a speedy reply, it's probably best to send the message earlier in the evening or at the weekend. When you send your email also says something about you - message someone at 2.30am and they might wonder about your lifestyle! And on the subject of timing, the first email is not the time to ask someone out on a date. Wait until you've exchanged three to five messages first.