Structured RNAs have many biological functions ranging from catalysis of chemical reactions to gene regulation. Many of these homologous structured RNAs display most of their conservation at the secondary or tertiary structure level. As a result, strategies for natural structured RNA discovery rely heavily on identification of sequences sharing a common stable secondary structure. However, correctly identifying the functional elements of the structure continues to be challenging. In addition to studying natural RNAs, we improve our ability to distinguish functional elements by studying sequences derived from in vitro selection experiments to select structured RNAs that bind specific proteins. In this thesis, we seek to improve methods for distinguishing functional RNA structures from arbitrarily predicted structures in sequencing data. To do so, we developed novel algorithms that prioritize the structural properties of the RNA that are under selection. In order to identify natural structured ncRNAs, we bring concepts from evolutionary biology to bear on the de novo RNA discovery process. Since there is selective pressure to maintain the structure, we apply molecular evolution concepts such as neutrality to identify functional RNA structures. We hypothesize that alignments corresponding to structured RNAs should consist of neutral sequences. During the course of this work, we developed a novel measure of neutrality, the structure ensemble neutrality (SEN), which calculates neutrality by averaging the magnitude of structure retained over all single point mutations to a given sequence. In order to analyze in vitro selection data for RNA-protein binding motifs, we developed a novel framework that identifies enriched substructures in the sequence pool. Our method accounts for both sequence and structure components by abstracting the overall secondary structure into smaller substructures composed of a single base-pair stack. Unlike many current tools, our algorithm is designed to deal with the large data sets coming from high-throughput sequencing. In conclusion, our algorithms have similar performance to existing programs. However, unlike previous methods, our algorithms are designed to leverage the evolutionary selective pressures in order to emphasize functional structure conservation.