Royalty-Free Stock Photography by (Mike Kemp)

When I moved to Washington to start my career, I was, like many people here, so focused on my work that I had no time to go out and meet people. Reluctantly, I turned to online dating to make friends and perhaps find someone who could handle my egregious use of puns.

I’m not sure if it was my level of activity or lack of formal complaints, but somehow I caught the eyes of the folks running a popular dating Web site, who offered me the opportunity to be a paid moderator. The income wasn’t high enough to even call it a part-time job — it was more like a way to earn money for a morning coffee. But working behind the scenes exposed me to the strange intricacies of online dating, which I found is indeed a great way to get to know people in the city — it led me to several casual dates and to a relationship that lasted a few months.

Though I’m currently taking a break from both moderating and trying to meet somone, I offer this guide to online dating, which I think can work for just about anyone who is willing to put in a little effort. Just keep these tips in mind.

Pointer 1: Remember your high school English class

Good grammar and writing go a long way. Not only do they show that you have the cognitive ability to be a functioning adult, but they also give people fewer reasons to ignore your profile/messages. When describing yourself, don’t tell people what you are. Instead show them. When you’re finished writing something, proofread it. One young man put on his profile: “I am very good at showing of the making girls feel beauty.” Not sure if he was typing quickly or if English is his second language; either way it shows the importance of reading over (or asking someone to read over) your profile.

Pointer 2: Use a good profile photo

Your profile photo is one of the most important parts of an online dating Web site. While we humans don’t like to admit how shallow we are, 90 percent of online daters’ interest in other people comes from the profile photos, according to data from OkCupid. This means that the photo is basically your only impression. Don’t be like some of the people I’ve seen who use all the Photoshop tools, or post half-naked photos of themselves atop a fake dinosaur, or show pictures of their cats. Just take a photo of yourself and time stamp it.

One young lady posted a photo of herself in a sundress on a sailboat. I liked sailing, spoke with her a bit and thought she was cute. So we decided to meet at a local pub. When I got there, I didn’t recognize her because the photo was not actually of her; the photo was taken by her.

Pointer 3: Don’t dis online dating

Everyone else probably feels the same awkwardness about it. Making negative comments on your profile or in your e-mail will just make potential daters more self-conscious about the situation and want to pass you by. I learned this early on that when I wrote, “I never thought I would be doing this.” I unintentionally made the people I was corresponding with feel devalued.

Pointer 4: Skip the soft sells

No one reading an online profile wants to experience deja vu. Anyone can say he’s a good listener or really nice. Focus instead on your abilities, your aspirations and ideas. If you aren’t all that interesting, try to make what’s boring appealing to the reader. “On Saturdays, I like sitting in pajamas eating cookies,” doesn’t sound as intriguing as, “When it’s time to relax, I’m throwing on stretchy pants and devouring a sleeve of Oreos.”

One day, more than 200 complaints came into the site about fake profiles. Turns out, real people were just using the same phrase: “I’m a happy person who really enjoys hanging out with friends, watching Netflix and just being me.” If this describes you, I know a few million people who you’d get along with.

Pointer 5: Don’t be offended

The central element of online dating is the sheer volume of people involved. People move quickly and, as with anything online, have short attention spans. Every time you go online, you will see hundreds of attractive people. When you start a conversation and it ends within two messages, don’t respond later by insulting the person. Instead, just focus on the law of large numbers. Another experiment by OkCupid determined that, even when a low match percentage is displayed, 14 percent of the people you reach out to will respond at least once. So, even in a worst-case scenario, one out of every seven people you message should reply. The likelihood of a response decreases as the conversation continues online, so set up a meeting quickly. But if the conversation does stop, don’t be offended. Just find seven more people you find interesting and start over.

Bradley Demerich works for Lockheed Martin.

Read more from our dating package, including essays, app reviews, a glossary and a dating flow chart.

E-mail us at

For more articles, as well as features such as Date Lab, Gene Weingarten and more, visit The Washington Post Magazine.

Follow the Magazine on Twitter.

Like us on Facebook.