For its most prominent proponents, interpretive research is emphatically a 'systematic' craft; though iterative and creative, if practiced expertly it enables the researcher to progress towards a more coherent, comprehensive and convincing interpretation of both the political phenomenon under investigation and its scholarly significance. We argue that this process is neither as systematic in nature nor as satisfying in execution as such a characterization implies. Instead, drawing on our own experiences of conducting this sort of research, we argue that the craft is inherently an 'impressionistic' one; it entails the deliberate and at times painful creation of a stylized and simplified account. By necessity, doing interpretation means glossing over complexity or presenting a partial representation in order to say something meaningful to academic and practitioner audiences. We argue that instead of shying away from the impressionistic nature of their work, interpretive researchers like us should embrace it, and that doing so will buttress this type of research from criticism, enhance its connection to the policy world, and strengthen its appeal from within.