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My academic write-up was reviewed by a referee who is probably a native English speaker, and he marked the following sentence of my article as "bad English", but I don't understand why:

This technique can improve the performance, thanks to its feature A and feature B.

What I meant was that its two features are the main reasons that this technique delivers better performance.

Is there something wrong with this way of using thanks to?

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  • Perhaps the comma is not necessary and thanks to its features A and B.? – Lucian Sava May 25 '19 at 7:05
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    I think the problem is not "thanks to" - it's "the performance" and "its" that stand out as awkward to me. "This technique can improve performance, thanks to feature A and feature B." would be how I would write it. If you have something after "performance", like "this technique can improve the performance of all badminton players, thanks to ..." – ColleenV Aug 4 '20 at 19:15
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According to the Cambridge Dictionary, "thanks" is informal, and you should avoid using informal English in academic writing.

In situations where informal English is acceptable, "thanks to" is appropriate when referring to people that you really do want to thank for something, or at a pinch an animal like a guide dog, for example

Thanks to my driver, I arrived at the airport on time despite the traffic jam.

Personally, I don't think that it is appropriate to give thanks to things... an inanimate object, or an abstract concept like an engineering feature or a scientific principle. For situations like this, expressions like "because of" or "on account of" are more appropriate.

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  • The link you provided is for a different usage of "thanks". Take a look at this one, which is specifically for "thanks to sb/sth" from Cambridge: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/thanks-to-sb-sth – narengi Feb 21 at 15:26
  • Also from Oxford dictionary: Thanks to: as a result of, owing to, due to, because of, through -- Thanks to foreign loans, the economy was showing signs of recovery. Obviously this is not informal. – narengi Feb 21 at 15:51
  • @narengi putting thanks into a set phrase doesn't, in my opinion, make it less informal. I personally find it rather irritating in a formal context. – JavaLatte Feb 22 at 0:56
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Not an answer but perhaps another way to say it:

Features A and B improve the performance of this technique.

That puts the features first in the sentence and changes passive to active voice.

(Without more context I can't know whether this accurately conveys how those features impact performance.)

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Normally, there is nothing wrong with "thanks to". Actually, because of bad English, it is not used as much as it should be.

People use:

because of (= the source of something bad)

  • I broke my leg because of the slippery floor.

instead of

thanks to (= the source of something good)

  • I am successful in life _because of_ thanks to the efforts of my teachers.

way too often.


Regarding your particular case, you should ask the referee what is not OK / what is bad English. We cannot know what he expects.

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  • Interesting point that it's not used as much as it should be. Regarding your suggestion, it's not possible for me to contact the reviewer, as this is part of a single-round revision process for an academic paper. – narengi May 25 '19 at 8:01
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    Using because of doesn't imply anything about good or bad, it's neutral. There is nothing wrong with I am successful in life because of the efforts of my teachers. Thanks to is different - it is only used for things you might give thanks for, which will be good things unless you're being sarcastic. – user96060 May 25 '19 at 9:23
  • @Minty: grammatically, it is not wrong, but many people from many countries keep noticing the same thing: "because of" casts a bad light. Using it with something positive is awkward. It is considered to be OK only because too many people make the same mistake. – virolino May 25 '19 at 10:10
  • It's not awkward at all, never was. The mistake is to think it's a mistake. – user96060 May 25 '19 at 10:12
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    No - I think what must have happened is that someone has told you something like 'thanks to' is for positive things - if you want to talk about a negative thing, use *'because of' instead, and you've misunderstood as meaning that because of is only for negative things. I can see how that could happen, but it's a misunderstanding. – user96060 May 25 '19 at 10:22
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This technique can improve the performance, thanks to its A and B features.

But I prefer: due to its A and B features.

Thanks should really be used when there is a reason for it, involving people.

Thanks to his brother's help, he was able to pass the exam.

Others will tell you that thanks to and due to are interchangeable. Others includes dictionaries.

They basically are. That said, I still prefer to use "thanks to" something that involves a person's effort or intervention.

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We should use "thanks to" when there is someone that we can thank.

We would probably not say "thank you" to the features. So saying "... thanks to features A and B" is treating the features as people, or personifying them. Personification is common in poetry, but seems informal in a scientific paper.

It's not incorrect or "bad" English, but the register is a little off.

You can probably write this with "because of", "due to", or "as a result of" or similar.

There are also possible errors with "the performance" and "its feature A..."

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    I didn't downvote, but Oxford Thesaurus of English gives this description and example for "thanks to": as a result of, owing to, due to, because of. Thanks to foreign loans, the economy was showing signs of recovery. – narengi May 25 '19 at 8:20

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