I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn.

What a lousy way to make a first (or subsequent) impression on a business contact. That 11-word sentence, automatically generated when you hit the “Connect” button on someone’s LinkedIn profile, is a surefire way to signal that you’re not that serious about the request. If you were, you’d take a moment (or two) to write a custom note to your potential contact, giving him the context he needs to consider your request.

Good connection requests shed important light on your value as a connection. They explain who you are, how you know the person you’re inviting, and what you’re looking for in the relationship. And they do it in 350 characters or less. That’s not a lot of room, but it’s enough to get your potential connection some context for the request.

Case in point:

Hi, Mary. It’s great seeing you on LinkedIn. It looks like you’ve had great success since our days at XYZ Co. Congrats! I’m between gigs, and trying to network into LMNOP Co. LinkedIn says you know some folks there. Would you help me make the right connections? I’d really appreciate your help. Kevin

The above request isn’t perfect, but it does a good job of reminding Mary of our history, telling her what I’m up to, and explaining my request. It’s much more informative than “I’d like to add you to my professional network” — and it’s more likely to get a response. Mary may not be effective at helping me network into LMNOP Co., but at least she knows what I’m after. She knows my story.

At any given time, I’m sitting on a dozen or more generic LinkedIn requests. Some are from people I have never heard of. Others are from people I’ve met in passing, but don’t remember how. Some might even be mistakes. But none of them is accepted because I don’t have the context for the request, and can’t figure out why I should accept.

LinkedIn recommends that you only connect with people you know well. There’s a number of good reasons for that (strength of your network, the possibility that your connections will be called upon to vouch for you, etc.), but even the most careful networkers connect with more distant associates when there’s a legitimate reason to do so. That reason belongs in the request itself.

And that’s true whether the target of your request is someone you haven’t seen in years, or someone you see every day.