What are user stories? (And why are they important for your content)

What are user stories? (And why are they important for your content)

What are user stories? (And why are they important for your content)

What are user stories? (And why are they important for your content)

Sarah Winters

Author of Content Design
When you hear the term “user stories,” you might think of case studies, testimonials, or use cases. But user stories are actually quite different from these other types of customer-focused content.

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User stories play an important role in agile software development, but the same methodology that development teams use to improve software can also be used to improve content.

Below, we’ll dive into what a user story is, how to write one, and what great user stories look like.

What are user stories?

User stories are short, simple, and informal descriptions of software features from the end user’s perspective. These end-users don’t necessarily have to be external customers; they can also be stakeholders inside the company using the software or even colleagues and team members.

In agile software development, user stories help articulate what value a product feature can bring and have a better understanding of why users want a certain functionality. It helps the product manager and development team shift their focus from writing about the software features to discussing the features.

The development and product management teams will write these user stories on index cards or sticky notes and use them as part of the discussions that take place during the development phase. These discussions help the team focus on the user — who is at the center of the conversation — to create a better product and user experience.

You can also utilize user stories in your content development in a similar way. Your content team can use user stories to think about how the topic impacts the reader before you begin creating content.

Using this methodology as part of your content creation processes can help you:

  • Develop a more focused content strategy
  • Create content that is truly user-centered
  • Collaborate with others on your content

In short, using content user stories during the content development process works just as it does during the product development process. It forces you to see the user/reader’s point of view and create content focused on their needs and wants.

:Bulb: Read more: Curious about how agile methodology can be applied to your content process? Read Adopting an Agile Approach to Content.

How to write user stories

User stories are less about what’s actually written and more about the discussion that stems from them. That being said, as you start writing user stories, you can use the same user story template that you would use for agile user stories.

Here’s what it looks like:

As a [type of user or user persona], I want [goal] so that [benefit].

As you start to fill in the details, think about your target audience and what they want out of the product or service you’re selling.

Here’s an example:

As a health-conscious mother, I want to know if the companies I buy from use organic materials so that I can make an informed decision.
User story template
Use this user story template to get started writing your own user stories! (Source)

While an agile project needs to discover the value of an existing or new product feature, content teams will use user stories to better understand the end goal of their target buyers.

In this case, the buyer wants to make informed purchasing decisions. Knowing this allows your team to create content that will help her get the information she needs to make better decisions.

You can see that keeping to these stories will give you very targeted pieces of content that answer a very specific user need. When you add user stories to your content workflow, you’re ensuring that the content you create is relevant and useful for your audience.

Speaking of which, you’ll want your actual customers to write these user stories as well as internal stakeholders and team members who know your customers well (like sales and customer service team members). This is the best way to understand the user’s perspective while getting what the user wants in their own words.

Use cases vs. user stories

Now, let’s look at use cases versus user stories to better understand how they differ and why you need to use each.

A use case explains how a person will use your product, service, program, system, etc. For example, let’s say you have an app that allows customers to book fitness classes. Here’s what it might look like to use the app:

  • The user can use the app to browse fitness classes at locations near them.
  • After finding the class they want to take, they can book their spot for the class directly with the fitness center.
  • Once the user makes the appointment on the app, they’ll be prompted to enter their payment information to pay for the session.
  • After payment is confirmed, they’ll receive a confirmation email that provides the date and time for their class.
  • When the user books and pays for the class on the app, the fitness center receives a confirmation of booking through their system.

In this use case, the app is used to make/receive bookings, process payments, and communicate with fitness centers online. It tells us how the end-user utilizes the app and what they can do on it.

Use cases versus user stories
Understanding the difference between use cases versus user stories will help you better utilize each. (Source)

While use cases focus on how the user interacts with your product or service and what they can do, user stories focus on the why. Knowing why the user wants a certain functionality or feature gives the product manager a better understanding of how people use the app and what value they get from it.

The same is true of your content. When you create a user story during your content creation process, you’re learning what value they will get out of consuming your content.

Here's what the user story for the same app above might look like:

As a fitness enthusiast, I want to book fitness classes quickly from my smartphone so that I can more easily fit exercise into my life.

As you can see, the use case walks us through the details of using the feature. While the user story tells us why it exists in the first place.

3 great examples of user stories

You’ll only get better at writing good user stories if you have some solid examples.

Here are 3 great examples of user stories that can help you understand how they work and how to write your own.

Example 1: Marketing Agency

As a small business owner I want to understand how to create a content strategy so that I can create an effective strategy for my own business.

In this user story, we can get a better understanding of what type of content the person is looking for — they want to learn about content strategy. But more than that, we get a better understanding of why they want to learn about this topic — so they can create their own content strategy.

With this in mind, the team might create a how-to article on creating a content strategy or an infographic that lists the must-haves of an effective content strategy. If they didn’t know the “why,” the content team might have created content that didn’t align with the reader’s goals. (Like a video on what content strategy is…)

Example 2: Shoe Company

As a woman professional I want a comfortable yet stylish high heel so that I can feel comfortable and confident at work.

With this user story, we’re learning the reason why the ideal buyer (a woman in a professional industry) wants a certain product (comfortable yet stylish high heels).

This user story might help clear up any assumptions or misconceptions about why the ideal customer buys this type of shoe. Doing so can help this product's content team create appropriate content for its audience.

Example 3: Financial Coach

As a busy C-level executive I want money management to feel quick, easy, and unrestrictive so that I’m more likely to implement my financial plan.

This user story offers a lot of information that can help with copy positioning. The ideal buyer (busy C-level executive) wants money management to be quick, easy, and unrestrictive. The financial coach can use this information to position their offer in a way that appeals to the buyer.

The financial coach may also take the “why” and create content around that. The buyer has a difficult time sticking to the implementation part of their financial plan. Maybe the financial coach creates content around how to make implementation easy with specific tips, hacks, or tools.

Now, it’s your turn for user stories

Now it’s your turn to try writing some user stories as part of your content development process. Remember, it’s less about the actual written words and more about the discussion or conversation it sparks within your content team.

You can even try writing user stories for your existing content on your website. If you find that you cannot write user stories or your user stories don’t align with what your readers want,  it may be time to make improvements to these pieces of content so you can create a better user experience for your readers.

Overall, user stories help ensure your team is all on the same page when collaborating on content. Writing these stories before you create content not only helps you create more consistent content, but it also ensures that the content you’re producing is actually useful to your audience.

Looking for ways to improve your content collaboration process? GatherContent makes it easy for you to organize, manage, and implement your content strategy from iteration to repurposing by giving you all the tools you need for content operations.

Want to see for yourself? Start a free trial today!

User stories play an important role in agile software development, but the same methodology that development teams use to improve software can also be used to improve content.

Below, we’ll dive into what a user story is, how to write one, and what great user stories look like.

What are user stories?

User stories are short, simple, and informal descriptions of software features from the end user’s perspective. These end-users don’t necessarily have to be external customers; they can also be stakeholders inside the company using the software or even colleagues and team members.

In agile software development, user stories help articulate what value a product feature can bring and have a better understanding of why users want a certain functionality. It helps the product manager and development team shift their focus from writing about the software features to discussing the features.

The development and product management teams will write these user stories on index cards or sticky notes and use them as part of the discussions that take place during the development phase. These discussions help the team focus on the user — who is at the center of the conversation — to create a better product and user experience.

You can also utilize user stories in your content development in a similar way. Your content team can use user stories to think about how the topic impacts the reader before you begin creating content.

Using this methodology as part of your content creation processes can help you:

  • Develop a more focused content strategy
  • Create content that is truly user-centered
  • Collaborate with others on your content

In short, using content user stories during the content development process works just as it does during the product development process. It forces you to see the user/reader’s point of view and create content focused on their needs and wants.

:Bulb: Read more: Curious about how agile methodology can be applied to your content process? Read Adopting an Agile Approach to Content.

How to write user stories

User stories are less about what’s actually written and more about the discussion that stems from them. That being said, as you start writing user stories, you can use the same user story template that you would use for agile user stories.

Here’s what it looks like:

As a [type of user or user persona], I want [goal] so that [benefit].

As you start to fill in the details, think about your target audience and what they want out of the product or service you’re selling.

Here’s an example:

As a health-conscious mother, I want to know if the companies I buy from use organic materials so that I can make an informed decision.
User story template
Use this user story template to get started writing your own user stories! (Source)

While an agile project needs to discover the value of an existing or new product feature, content teams will use user stories to better understand the end goal of their target buyers.

In this case, the buyer wants to make informed purchasing decisions. Knowing this allows your team to create content that will help her get the information she needs to make better decisions.

You can see that keeping to these stories will give you very targeted pieces of content that answer a very specific user need. When you add user stories to your content workflow, you’re ensuring that the content you create is relevant and useful for your audience.

Speaking of which, you’ll want your actual customers to write these user stories as well as internal stakeholders and team members who know your customers well (like sales and customer service team members). This is the best way to understand the user’s perspective while getting what the user wants in their own words.

Use cases vs. user stories

Now, let’s look at use cases versus user stories to better understand how they differ and why you need to use each.

A use case explains how a person will use your product, service, program, system, etc. For example, let’s say you have an app that allows customers to book fitness classes. Here’s what it might look like to use the app:

  • The user can use the app to browse fitness classes at locations near them.
  • After finding the class they want to take, they can book their spot for the class directly with the fitness center.
  • Once the user makes the appointment on the app, they’ll be prompted to enter their payment information to pay for the session.
  • After payment is confirmed, they’ll receive a confirmation email that provides the date and time for their class.
  • When the user books and pays for the class on the app, the fitness center receives a confirmation of booking through their system.

In this use case, the app is used to make/receive bookings, process payments, and communicate with fitness centers online. It tells us how the end-user utilizes the app and what they can do on it.

Use cases versus user stories
Understanding the difference between use cases versus user stories will help you better utilize each. (Source)

While use cases focus on how the user interacts with your product or service and what they can do, user stories focus on the why. Knowing why the user wants a certain functionality or feature gives the product manager a better understanding of how people use the app and what value they get from it.

The same is true of your content. When you create a user story during your content creation process, you’re learning what value they will get out of consuming your content.

Here's what the user story for the same app above might look like:

As a fitness enthusiast, I want to book fitness classes quickly from my smartphone so that I can more easily fit exercise into my life.

As you can see, the use case walks us through the details of using the feature. While the user story tells us why it exists in the first place.

3 great examples of user stories

You’ll only get better at writing good user stories if you have some solid examples.

Here are 3 great examples of user stories that can help you understand how they work and how to write your own.

Example 1: Marketing Agency

As a small business owner I want to understand how to create a content strategy so that I can create an effective strategy for my own business.

In this user story, we can get a better understanding of what type of content the person is looking for — they want to learn about content strategy. But more than that, we get a better understanding of why they want to learn about this topic — so they can create their own content strategy.

With this in mind, the team might create a how-to article on creating a content strategy or an infographic that lists the must-haves of an effective content strategy. If they didn’t know the “why,” the content team might have created content that didn’t align with the reader’s goals. (Like a video on what content strategy is…)

Example 2: Shoe Company

As a woman professional I want a comfortable yet stylish high heel so that I can feel comfortable and confident at work.

With this user story, we’re learning the reason why the ideal buyer (a woman in a professional industry) wants a certain product (comfortable yet stylish high heels).

This user story might help clear up any assumptions or misconceptions about why the ideal customer buys this type of shoe. Doing so can help this product's content team create appropriate content for its audience.

Example 3: Financial Coach

As a busy C-level executive I want money management to feel quick, easy, and unrestrictive so that I’m more likely to implement my financial plan.

This user story offers a lot of information that can help with copy positioning. The ideal buyer (busy C-level executive) wants money management to be quick, easy, and unrestrictive. The financial coach can use this information to position their offer in a way that appeals to the buyer.

The financial coach may also take the “why” and create content around that. The buyer has a difficult time sticking to the implementation part of their financial plan. Maybe the financial coach creates content around how to make implementation easy with specific tips, hacks, or tools.

Now, it’s your turn for user stories

Now it’s your turn to try writing some user stories as part of your content development process. Remember, it’s less about the actual written words and more about the discussion or conversation it sparks within your content team.

You can even try writing user stories for your existing content on your website. If you find that you cannot write user stories or your user stories don’t align with what your readers want,  it may be time to make improvements to these pieces of content so you can create a better user experience for your readers.

Overall, user stories help ensure your team is all on the same page when collaborating on content. Writing these stories before you create content not only helps you create more consistent content, but it also ensures that the content you’re producing is actually useful to your audience.

Looking for ways to improve your content collaboration process? GatherContent makes it easy for you to organize, manage, and implement your content strategy from iteration to repurposing by giving you all the tools you need for content operations.

Want to see for yourself? Start a free trial today!

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About the author

Sarah Winters

Founder of the content design movement, Sarah pioneered the standards during her 10-year career with the UK government.

As head of content design for the Government Digital Service (GDS), Sarah created and implemented the content strategy for the GOV.UK website.

After leaving GDS, Sarah took her knowledge and wrote the respected and highly popular Content Design – a book for anyone creating user-centred content.

She also launched Content Design London to provide training and consultation in content strategy and content design for governments, charities and organisations in the UK and worldwide.

Sarah is also a respected and in-demand speaker and shares her expertise to audiences at conferences, meet-ups and events globally.

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