The structures of open and closed conformations of DNA polymerase beta (pol beta) suggests that the rate of single-nucleotide deletions during synthesis may be modulated by interactions in the DNA minor groove that align the templating base with the incoming dNTP. To test this hypothesis, we measured the single-base deletion error rates of wild-type pol beta and lysine and alanine mutants of Arg(283), whose side chain interacts with the minor groove edge of the templating nucleotide at the active site. The error rates of both mutant enzymes are increased >100-fold relative to wild-type pol beta. Template engineering experiments performed to distinguish among three possible models for deletion formation suggest that most deletions in repetitive sequences by pol beta initiate by strand slippage. However, pol beta also generates deletions by a different mechanism that is strongly enhanced by the substitutions at Arg(283). Analysis of error specificity suggests that this mechanism involves nucleotide misinsertion followed by primer relocation, creating a misaligned intermediate. The structure of pol beta bound to non-gapped DNA also indicates that the templating nucleotide and its downstream neighbor are out of register in the open conformation and this could facilitate misalignment (dNTP or primer terminus) with the next template base.