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I was reading a presentation and found the passage below. I still don't understand how the passive voice (first sentence) causes the sentence to flow better. To me, the second sentence sounds better, and flows more smoothly. Any ideas why?

Which passage is cohesive?

Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. The collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no longer than a marble creates a black hole. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.

  1. Some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe have been raised by scientists studying black holes in space. A black hole is created by the collapse of a dead star into a point perhaps no larger than a marble. So much matter compressed into so little volume changes the fabric of space around it in puzzling ways.

Cohesion

  1. The sentence with the passive voice caused the paragraph to flow better.
  2. It connected easily to the sentence that preceded it and the sentence that followed.
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The passive construction of interest here is actually in the second sentence of the second passage: A black hole is created ... .

Using the passive here allows the writer to make a black hole the subject of the sentence and hence bring it to the front (instead of it being the object of the sentence in passage 1, and hence at the end).

This in turn allows the writer to implement the Given-New pattern from sentence one to sentence two. What is new information at the end of sentence 1 becomes the given information at the beginning of sentence 2. This is a well-known device for creating cohesion, and is often achieved (or only achievable) through the use of a passive construction.

There is more information on the Given-New principle here: http://sana.tkk.fi/awe/cohesion/infostrux/given/index.html

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Having 'black hole' at the beginning of the second sentence makes it clear that that sentence will be defining or describing a black hole. Having such a quick repetition of a term is common in textbooks or other instructional material when the term becomes the focal point of a passage. I believe the passive voice, in this situation, actually does make the entire passage flow better, because it makes the purpose of the passage more clear.

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As I am fond of saying, "There is more than one way to swing a dead cat."
Your first sentence could be recast in the active voice with no serious detriment, in my opinion. For example,

"Scientists studying black holes in space have raised some astonishing questions about the nature of the universe. For example, when a dead star collapses into a point that is perhaps no bigger than a marble, it creates a black hole. Consequently, the fabric of space around the black hole changes in puzzling ways, what with so much matter compressed into so little volume."

"Six of one; half dozen of the other." De gustibus non est disputandum (i.e., "You say 'toe may' toe', I say 'toe mah' toe.' Who's to say who is 'right'?")

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