Attention All Daters! How to Write a Fabulous Personal Ad

Psst … hey you! Yeah, you, the one staring at the blank document on your computer screen. Wanna know how to write a personal ad so attention-grabbing that it’s like you’ve reached out and poked someone? Read on.

Though it’s one of the newest and most wildly popular ways to meet that special someone, Internet dating is still a significant risk. After all, your first impression of a person comes from what they tell you about themselves – and depending on how honest they are, those personal ads can be misleading. For all you know, the guy who described himself as “a modern-day Adonis” could have written his ad while slumped in front of his computer with a 40-oz. Schlitz, wearing a Cheetos-and-sweat-stained undershirt, smelling more like armpits than Armani.

Okay, so that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but it makes my point: if you’re going to be successful in the oh-so-tricky world of online dating, you’re going to have to be honest when writing your profile or personal ad. But it doesn’t stop there. You also have to be engaging, witty, and concise. You have to catch – and hold – the attention of a total stranger by arranging 26 little letters into meaningful words. It’s a tall order all right, but writing a great (and genuine, and funny, and memorable) personal ad is your crucial first foray into the world of www-wooing.

Picture Yourself in the Present

A good friend of mine tried his hand at Internet dating and thought he had met the perfect girl – until he went to meet her and realised that her photo was ten years and a hundred pounds ago. Needless to say, the relationship came to a crash-landing before it even really got off the ground. Not that the two of them couldn’t have had potential, but my friend felt very deceived; he’d grown attracted to one mental image of this person, yet was greeted by quite another. And, he reasoned, she had been dishonest about her looks, so what else might she be lying about – or just conveniently neglecting to mention?

If you’re going to include a photo of yourself in your ad, make sure it’s current. It should be representative of how you usually look, not a glamour shot or a picture of you at Halloween or your head Photoshopped onto someone else’s body. You do not need to pose as professional; some of the best photos are candid shots taken when a person least expects it. Choose a picture that you think best represents you. If you don’t have one that you’re proud to post, buy a roll of film and enlist a friend to use it exclusively for pictures of you: you being silly, you being serious, you being yourself. Out of an entire roll, there will most likely be at least one that you like enough to include with your ad. Think of it as an investment in a potential romantic future – and a testament to your honesty.

Write As You Talk

Read these next few sentences out loud, exactly as they’re written: “I am a nice woman who seeks a nice man for friendship and enjoyable company. I take pleasure in cooking and reading, am an avid gardener, and have two dogs who are my constant companions.”

You’re probably thinking, “What’s wrong with that?” And the answer is… nothing is wrong with it. Not if you speak like that in real life – but most people don’t. When was the last time you said “I am” instead of “I’m” … “do not” instead of “don’t?” How often do you say “I seek” as opposed to “I’m looking for?” It’s often hard to “hear” people’s true voices in their writing if they don’t write the way they speak. If your words reflect how you talk, the real you will shine through and make your ad stand out. The subject of the few sentences above sounds rather librarian-esque; you get the impression that she’s a prim and proper lady, a real buttoned-up kind of gal, and – excuse me while I yawn – even a little bit on the boring side. To make sure that your ad sounds like you and has a conversational tone to it, read it aloud to yourself when you’re finished writing it. Don’t take the casual tone so far that you “go ignorin’ them basic rules’a grammar ‘n’ spelling” (and stay away from profanity, at least for now, even if you cuss like a sailor) … but write as you talk. An ad with a relaxed and chatty quality will make a great first impression.

Have Fun

Injecting some humour into your ad can work wonders. If you have fun writing it, then people will most likely have fun reading it. Writing a personal ad is different than writing an “About Me” section of a job application. You’re not trying to impress someone with your professionalism – you’re trying to find someone to have fun with, so write with that in mind. And think of it this way: whatever type your sense of humour is, the people responding to your ad are the ones that get it – the ones that share your opinion of what’s funny. Even self-deprecating humour can warm up an otherwise bland personal ad, but don’t go overboard. “I have a slightly out-of-control obsession with shoes” is acceptable; but “My teeth are yellow I could butter a loaf of bread” is not.

Honesty Is the Best Policy

It goes hand-in-hand with the part about submitting a photo of what you look. It is essential to be one hundred per cent truthful when it comes to putting yourself out there. After all, if you aren’t honest, you’re only cheating yourself out of finding the highest level compatibility possible. Even things you perceive as flaws, others consider it as endearing qualities. If your favorite food is pizza with Skittles and anchovies, and you lie and say it’s foie gras (for those who aren’t up on their ethnic cuisines, that’s duck liver paté), you’re going to get taken to a French restaurant instead of that pizza joint you’ve been dying to try. But if you ‘fess up to your weird cravings, you might find honey whose palate is as freaky as yours.

Keep On the Sunny Side

“Hi. My name is Sadie, and I’m a thirty-one-year-old divorcee who spends her spare time listening to Mazzy Star, avoiding the ugly singles scene, and plotting devious ways to get revenge on my jerk of an ex-husband.” That might be the truth, and I did say that honesty is the best policy, but Sadistic Sadie’s ad makes her sound about as warm and inviting as a porcupine. You don’t have to lie; if your usual demeanour is on par with Oscar the Grouch, don’t write about how much you love puppies and kittens and rainbows and wish upon stars for world peace. But unless you intend to attract a perpetually dark Goth type, you should try to be positive and upbeat in your ad. Instead of infusing your words with negativity, project a forward-looking attitude. Don’t say you’re sceptical of the Internet dating scene; say you can’t wait to experience it for yourself to see if all the stories you’ve heard are true. Remember what your mama told you: if you can’t say anything nice.

Show, Don’t Tell

Adjectives are your friends. What sounds prettier: “brown hair,” or “rich mahogany-brown tresses?” Make your ad as illustrative as possible. Find creative ways to describe yourself. If you need help, take a poll among family and friends about what they think are your best features, and list those, using words that’ll help the reader envision you in more vivid detail. You don’t have a nice smile; you have a “megawatt grin that can light up any room.” See what I mean?

Pay Attenshun to Spellign & Grammer

Didn’t that heading stick out like a sore thumb? I was making a point. It might be the most basic of rules, but it’s also one of the essential tools for making a great first impression: be scrupulous about using proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Nothing can make you look ignorant and uneducated faster than a poorly edited personal. Spell things out (“and” instead of “&” for example). And whatever you do, don’t revert to chat-speak – it’s never acceptable to write sentences such as, “R U the one 4 me?” unless you’re about fourteen years old. Proofread your personal when you’re finished with it, then have someone else do it for good measure if you’re not entirely sure that you haven’t overlooked anything.

Have One Helluva Headline

Even before a potential mate sees your ad, he or she understands the headline. That means it has to be one great attention-grabber. According to the experts at online dating site Cherish.com, “The key to a great headline is to capture something unique about you without saying a lot of words. Are you a scuba diving buff? Why not write ‘Search sunken ships and lost treasures with me!’ Do you love NASCAR? How about ‘Take a turn around the bend on Race Day with yours truly.’” Your headline should be a sentence that makes the reader want to know more about you. Play on people’s natural curiosity by writing it in the form of a question or a riddle, so that they have to click on your personal to find out the answer. Or make the reader laugh – I once saw a personal ad with the headline “Click Here for a Million Dollars.”

Get Inspired

Browse through other people’s personals to get an idea of what tickles your fancy. Read them and take note: what made you want to read past the first sentence? Don’t overlook even the boring ones, figure out what makes them boring so you’ll know what to avoid when writing your own. But be careful not to plagiarise; they’re called “personal” ads for a reason, people!

Unleash Some Urgency

You know how vendors of just about every product use words and phrases like, “Rare,” “One day only,” and “While supplies last?” There’s a good reason behind it: those phrases give potential buyers a sense of urgency – they feel the need to snatch up the product while they still have the chance. You can do the same when you write your ad. Propose a date to the reader, one that’s time-sensitive (“How about catching the Fall Music Festival with me next weekend?”), and pat yourself on the back for your superior marketing skills as the interested parties fill your inbox with acceptances.

Be Super-Specific

You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it! The more specific you understand your preferences, the more likely that someone who fits your exacting criteria will answer your ad. If you’re looking for the kind of girl who can fry up some mean chicken and change her oil or a guy who knows the difference between Gucci and Gitano, speak up and say so! It’ll give the reader a good idea of what kind of person you’re looking for and whether or not they’d fill the bill. In the same token, though, don’t be overly picky. Asking for a guy who is childless, loves jazz but not swing, 5’11” with green eyes, blonde hair, a six-figure salary and a Jaguar (silver with leather upholstery) might be a bit over-the-top, and you’ll end up disappointed by the lack of responses.

Also, try to avoid generic phrases such as “I enjoy watching movies,” for example. Say which movies are your favourites and if you have room, why you love them so much. Same with other generalised topics such as books and food.

Whether you’re looking to find a soul mate or a chess partner, a personal ad is a great way to put your intentions out there. Be forthright, candid, optimistic, and creative, and you’ll attract someone with the same qualities. Stretch the truth or be unclear about your preferences, and you’re asking for trouble – or at least, setting yourself up for a date with someone who isn’t at all what you’d hoped. Your ad is your call for attention, so let people know you deserve it!

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