There a a few different ways that a literature review can be structured in order to make it easy for the reader to take away all the essential information. It is important to consider how you will structure your lit review before you begin writing, as this can often make the writing process easier to start, and it will mean that you have less editing to do later on.
One of the easiest ways to structure the literature review is to start with the earliest references and discuss them at the beginning, and then gradually work you way logically through time, to the references that are most recent. This is often the safest option and many people adopt this structure for the literature review. It is very rare that using this structure will not give you a very clear and well laid out review which is easy to follow.
Relationship to your own work
You can also structure your literature review by how closely related references are to your own work. Start you literature review by discussing all the articles that are very distantly related to your work, and finish with the articles which are very closely related to your chosen topic. This is also a really good way to structure the literature review but it can be a little bit harder to do that using the chronological method. This is because closeness and relatedness to you work is often quite subjective. It is also quite interesting to note that this method and the chronological method often yield exactly the same structure, as more distantly related work tends to have happened longer ago (but not always).
You can also organise you literature review by theme. This is probably the most difficult but it can be the most effective. If you notice while reading for your literature review that there are multiple discrete themes then it makes sense to separate these in your review and discuss them all individually. It is however, very, very, very important that while you keep the themes discrete, you still link them together in your literature review by the things they share in common. It is also important to note that structuring by theme will often be the main structure of the literature review, but there will often be sub-structures too. For example, if you have grouped your themes together, how do you order them? What structure do you use? Similarly, there will be many references within a theme, how do you structure these? Well the answer is simply to use the chronology or relationship methods as discussed earlier, depending on which one seems to fit the best. Although the theme method is probably the hardest it can be the most rewarding, and help you to write a very clear and well structured literature review.
I hope this helps you find a good structure for your literature review, I will be discussing it a little more in the future but for more information I highly recommend the book The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students by Diana Ridley. It discusses the subject of themes in detail, as well as being a good reference for writing the literature review. It’s made it onto my trusted resources page as I have used it quite a lot and I’ll write a review of it soon.