How do you turn a virtual relationship into a real one? That's a question every online dater, man or woman, has wrestled with at some point. A just-published study offers some timely answers to the lovelorn but computer savvy.

After sifting through nearly 4,000 published articles on online dating in psychology, sociology, biology and computer science journals, the researchers found 86 that directly addressed the question of how to move an online relationship to face-to-face contact. And most of the answers boil down to putting your best foot forward, electronically speaking.

Tips for Polishing Your Online Presence

It all starts with your screen name. Names that have a positive connotation, like “Fun2bwith,” work better than names with negative connotations, like LittleBug. And even though we are well into the 21st Century, men still are drawn to names suggesting physical attractiveness in women, like Country Cutie or Blondie. Women prefer names that indicate intelligence, such as Cultured.

Photos with a genuine smile, one that crinkles up the eyes, work wonders.

Screen names that start with a letter early in the alphabet do better than those with later starting letters because they come up first in search engines and get listed at the top. Who wants their profile to be at the end of the list? Zebras should definitely consider becoming Aardvarks.

Choosing Screen Names and Photos
The authors recommend that you look at profiles that you find attractive and choose screen names similar to theirs.

Naturally you want to have an attractive photo. But you should also remember to include photos showing you in a group, not just selfies. Photos with a genuine smile, one that crinkles up the eyes, work wonders. So can a tilt of the head. Women find men more desirable when they see other women smiling at them, while men are attracted to women who wear red.

Headline messages should be simple and to the point.

Show, do not tell is the rule of thumb for drafting a profile. A witty profile will go further than one that simply says that you have a sense of humor. And it's much more important to emphasize that you're likeable than to catalogue your achievements. You're not writing a resume.

The authors suggest a 70:30 ratio of who you are and what you're looking for.

What traits make you likeable? The study suggests that men are drawn to physically fit women, while women prefer bravery and risk-taking to kindness and altruism in their date.

Meeting Online and Off

Once you've drawn the eye of a potential suitor, opening the conversation can be difficult. Short and to the point works best. One single positive remark about the person's photo or character will usually serve to break the ice.

Don't wait too long to make the move from virtual date to real life. While there's no set time, early works better than late.

As the conversation continues, open-ended questions, for example, “How are you today?” work better than yes or no questions do. And humor helps smooth the way, as does ending all conversations on a positive note and avoiding criticism.

When it's finally time for an invitation, poetry can be quite helpful. If you're after Ms. or Mr. FitNFun, ask her or him to go for a run (rhyming dictionaries are available on the web). Most importantly, don't wait too long to make the move from virtual date to real life. While there's no set time, early works better than late. Three weeks is much better than six.

If all these dos and don'ts seem to take the soul out of dating, remember that they're designed to boost the odds of getting a real live date and not necessarily about finding the partner of your dreams. This could very well mean spending an evening with a giggling Bambi or listening to Clutch tell you how wonderful he is all night long. But it could also mean connecting with your soulmate. Such is the way of dating.

The study appears in Evidence-Based Medicine and is freely available to anyone looking for more online dating tips.