It’s difficult to structure a literature review – you have read tens, or even hundreds, of articles, chapters, blog posts and presentations, and it appears almost impossible to pull them into shape and relate them to your own work. As a PhD student, or an early-career researcher, it is difficult to know how your contribution fits in.
One way forward is to treat your literature review as an art gallery (I guess a science museum would be a good alternative if you are not from an arts background).
You first welcome your reader / visitor to the art gallery and briefly point out that it deals with art and not science and, specifically, paintings. If they are looking for geological specimens, 19th-cenury curios or medieval tapestries, they are in the wrong place.
You walk them through the doorway – pointing out the names of famous painters engraved above the door, thus situating what you are showing them in the context of a tradition. You don’t need to dwell at the entrance, just show that you are aware of some of the greats who have gone before.
Next, you walk them down the corridor into the gallery of (for example) European art, pointing out the 16th-century gallery and the 19th-century gallery, taking them in more detail past the expressionists and the cubists. Here you are beginning to relate your work to some broad subject areas, showing awareness of how these have developed over time.
You pause to look closely at a series of paintings by Monet and Picasso, focusing the attention of your audience on two specific paintings. Here you are introducing the work most closely related to your own, drawing attention to salient points and identifying the gap that your work will fill.
Finally, you lead them into the new alcove you have constructed, to look at the contents of that alcove. This is the work that you will describe and explore in the following sections or chapters.
The route you have taken helps your audience to understand what they see in the new alcove. People coming straight to the alcove wouldn’t really understand what was going on there, and certainly wouldn’t be able to understand it in terms of what had gone before. People choosing their own path through the gallery might miss the significance of your alcove, or understand it in a completely different way.
Your tour guides your audience through the environment to your work. They may already know that environment very well, and be looking out for key landmarks, or even for their own work, but it is only you who can create for them the route that shows your work to its best advantage.