What is a User Story – a Primer for Digital Health Researchers

Creating user stories is one of the first mobile or web app development tasks. If you are a digital health researcher building an app for the first time, the term ‘user stories’ may be new. In short, an app’s user stories are the primary medium of how its design and functionality are specified, developed, tested, and ultimately accepted as finished deliverables by your team. Therefore, understanding user stories is critical to help ensure you meet the needs of app users while also ensuring efficiency and effectiveness in working with your dev team. In line with our vision to empower researchers to take more control and ownership of health app development, this blog aims to arm researchers with the fundamental knowledge to understand, write, and effectively utilise user stories in digital health research.

What are user stories?

While ‘user stories’ may be a new term to you, their foundational concept of ‘user-centeredness’ is certainly not. A user story describes an app feature from the perspective of an end-user persona. They are written in a specific format that includes user persona, intent, and goal:

As a [user persona], I want to [user intent] so that [user goal].

Here is an example of an app promoting mindfulness for university students (using an abbreviated persona):

Persona: Maria is a second-year university student juggling a heavy workload. She is interested in mindfulness and meditation but is busy and often forgets. Maria is looking for a way to incorporate mindfulness into her busy schedule to reduce her stress levels.

User story: As Maria, I want to be reminded to take a two-minute mindfulness break when I get home from work so that I can remember to practice mindfulness every day.

As you can see, the example above has three main components:

User persona: A clear definition of the end-user persona. This should include basic demographic information such as age, occupation, hobbies, and any other relevant details that help paint a picture of the user.

User intent: The user’s intent or reason for using the product or service. This should clearly explain what the user is trying to accomplish or what problem they are trying to solve.

User goal: The underlying goal, motivation, or need driving the user intent. For example, this could be a desire for convenience, health outcomes, or support.

How are user stories helpful?

Developing and communicating with user stories can improve, streamline, and simplify the development of your mobile or web app. The key benefits of mastering working in user stories are described in the following sections.

Centres development on the user

As researchers, we know the importance of centring intervention development on the intended participant. In app development, user stories aim to precisely do just that. Developers use user stories to keep the entire team focused on the user and their needs rather than on the project’s technical details. As a research team, you can use user stories for the same purpose while planning, implementing, and evaluating digital health interventions.

Clear communication

User stories are written in a simple, concise format, free from technical jargon, so they can be a place of shared understanding between the entire development team. This also makes them a vital tool for facilitating communication between researchers and developers. Researchers can also use user stories for discussing app features within the research group or with external stakeholders.

Creating acceptance criteria

Before development begins, a detailed set of user stories tied to specific technical specifications will be created by your developer. These user stories should also include acceptance criteria, which are measurable objectives that signal the completion of a user’s goal, as stated in the user story. The research team should carefully review these acceptance criteria, as your developers will use these as definitions for when a feature is ‘done.’ They will also inform app testing.

Here is an example of the user story shown earlier with acceptance criteria:

User story: As Maria, I want to be reminded to take a two-minute mindfulness break when I get home from work so that I can remember to practice mindfulness every day.

Acceptance criteria:

  • I should be able to adjust the reminder time and the frequency of push notifications to fit my schedule and preferences.
  • The push notification should be sent at the times and days I set.
  • The reminder should include a brief message to encourage me to take a two-minute mindfulness break.
  • When I click the reminder, I should be taken to a two-minute mindfulness exercise on the app.
  • I should be able to dismiss or snooze the reminder easily.


Creating a health promotion app involves finding a balance between user preferences, the behavioural outcomes of the intervention, and time and financial resources. User stories are typically self-contained features, which means they can be added or removed from an app without changing other features’ functionality. Developers also typically will provide time and cost estimates at the user story level, making them the perfect tool for prioritising features based on user needs, budget, and time.


In conclusion, user stories are a foundational tool in app development. They keep a constant link between the user needs and app features and provide a common language for communication across the research and development team. This blog has provided tips for researchers for writing and utilising user stories throughout the process of developing digital health interventions.

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