User stories for web content

How to focus your web content on what people actually want

[3 minute read]

What is a user story?

One of the hardest things in life is to look at things how other people look at them. So when you’re building something – say a web page – it can be hard to understand what other people might think of it. Why are they even looking at it in the first place? Why would they care?

You can and should have your own business agenda. But if you don’t give people what they’re looking for, they won’t care.

User stories are simple statements that help you focus on what other people actually want and need.

Example user story

A user story might be something like:

As a prospective student

I would like to see a list of scholarships that I’m eligible for

So that I can help fund my education

The first line begins with “As a…” and helps you think about the person using your web page. There may be several users and lots of stories for each page, but it really helps to think of a key audience and a key story to help keep your content focused.

The second line begins with “I would like to…” and helps you think about your users’ needs. What do they want to do on this page?

The third line begins with “So that…” and may feel a little vague at first. But it really helps you put user needs in context. People don’t come you your website just for kicks. They’re trying to solve a real problem. You’re helping them.

Writing tips

When you do this for the first time you may feel it’s all a bit strange. Do persist though. After a while you’ll start to get the feel of thinking from a user’s point of view.

It often helps to write a user story on a post-it note with a large marker pen. This keeps the user story short and focused. Resist the temptation to write more detail. That can be worked out later, possibly with more user stories.

User story workshops

Try to make writing user stories a collaborative process.

You may feel you already know your users’ needs pretty well, but whenever I’ve involved people in user stories or testing I’ve always found out something new and interesting.

Go out and ask people. Ask your colleagues to take part. Ask your users to take part. You need to find out what people think. Collaboration makes this easier. It has an added benefit of making people feel more engaged in your website.

A simple workshop might help. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Just half an hour with a few colleagues or students. Get some post-its and pens and get people to write half a dozen user stories each. Then – as a group – get them to stick their stories on a board and prioritise them.

Even if you don’t learn anything new about your users (but I bet you will), you’ll have validated your ideas. This is a great start to building any web page.

Summary

User stories help you focus on what people want from your website.

They are meant to be short and quick to write.

Try to build your user stories with other people. Even if you can’t manage that just writing one user story for your web page will help you think about that page differently.

Of course you’ll still have your own agenda and message. You want your website to get across how amazing you are, or convey important information or facts. But if you don’t give people your message in the way they’re looking for it, they simply won’t listen. And then everyone loses out.

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