In a new monthly series, our relationships expert, Sarah Abell looks at issues to do with dating and offers her practical advice. In the fifth of the Inside Out Dating Guides Sarah Abell gives tips on how to find Mr or Ms Right on the internet.

If you are single and looking for love – online dating makes a great deal of sense especially if you are very busy or don’t meet any new or suitable people in the course of your every day life. Signing up to a dating website is a great way to be pro-active and to take control of your love life. It enables you to be clear about what you are looking for and to connect with like-minded people in a quick and simple way.

But if you’ve never tried it – the idea of online dating can be rather daunting. How do you know which of the thousands of dating websites to choose? How can you trust that the person contacting you is genuine, single and isn’t some stalker, cheat or liar? How do you get people to notice you amongst all the hundreds of other profiles? How and when should you agree to meet someone?

It is natural to be concerned about trying something new but don’t let your fears put you off. If you take a few simple precautions and chose reputable websites – there is no reason why you shouldn’t give it a go.

The most important thing is to choose the right site for you. Pick a site that has been recommended by a friend or has a good reputation. Look for ones that check users profiles and have good security and privacy for members.

Always read the terms and conditions and check if and how they charge. Look for websites that include some kind of matching service or require detailed profiles, as this will help you to narrow your search.

Have a look at the type of people on a site before signing up to see if it is the right place for you. If you have a particular interest, religion or affiliation you may want to choose a specialist site where you can connect with others who share your interests, beliefs or values. For example as a Telegraph reader – you may want to try Telegraph Dating.

Once you have chosen the site or sites you want to use – it is time to get started. Here are a few tips that I hope will help you to get the most from the experience.

1. Use an attractive and recent photo. Chose a photo that looks like you now. After all you don’t want people to be disappointed when they meet you.

2. Be honest in your profile. Lies tend to catch up with you and besides wouldn’t you rather people liked you for who you really are and not because of some false image you have created?

3. Put your best foot forward. You are advertising yourself so try to think about the unique factors that make you different from other people.

4. Be flexible in what you are looking for – you may be surprised. Decide what things you are not willing to compromise on and then be open about the rest. The fussier you are the more you limit your choices.

5. Be kind in your responses. Treat people, as you would want to be treated. If you aren’t keen – send a polite reply to say you are not interested.

6. Guard your privacy. Avoid giving your personal details to anyone until you feel happy that it is safe. Get to know people on Skype or over email before meeting – you can learn a lot about them. Always plan a first date in a public place and never at home. Let someone know where you are going and when you are due back.

7. Plan a short first date. Keep the first date short and simple. It is always better to finish a date wanting more. And if it is a disaster – at least it won’t have wasted too much of your time.

8. Give people a chance. If a first date isn’t a disaster but you aren’t totally sure whether you like the other person – try going on another date with them. Sometimes we can be too quick to judge people and we can miss out on a great potential partner.

9. Get to know people in context. If a date progresses into a relationship – make sure that you see them in the context of their friends and family. Be very wary if they never introduce you to anyone – it could suggest they have something to hide.

10. Enjoy it. Dating and meeting new people should be fun, so relax and try not to worry. And maintain your sense of humour because online dating is likely to involve the odd bad date amongst hopefully lots of good ones.

If you are reading this and have any tips on online dating or experiences you would be happy to share then please do let us know using the comments section below. It would be great to hear your advice and stories.