Human papillomavirus (HPV) is established as causative in oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinomas (OSCCs), being detected in 50% to 80% of tumors by DNA in situ hybridization (ISH) and/or polymerase chain reaction. However, these tests do not assess viral transcription. Many consider E6/E7 messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) the best indicator of HPV status, but it has not been detected in situ in OSCC. We constructed tissue microarrays (TMAs) from a cohort of OSCC for which p16 immunohistochemistry and HPV DNA ISH were previously performed on whole sections. We utilized a novel, chromogenic RNA ISH assay called RNAscope to detect E6/E7 mRNA of HPV-16 and other high-risk types on these TMAs. RNA ISH results were obtained for 196 of 211 TMA cases, of which 153 (78.1%) were positive. p16 immunohistochemistry and HPV DNA ISH were positive in 79.0% and 62.4% of cases, respectively. Concordance between RNA and p16, DNA and p16, and RNA and DNA were 96.4%, 78.7%, and 83.5%, respectively. Only 7 cases (3.6%) were discrepant between RNA ISH and p16. In univariate analysis, all 3 tests correlated with better overall survival (OS), disease-specific survival (DSS), and disease-free survival (DFS) (all P<0.001). In multivariate analysis, OS correlated significantly with RNA (hazard ratio=0.39, P=0.001), DNA (0.53, P=0.03), and p16 (0.30, P<0.001), but DSS and DFS correlated significantly only with p16 (DSS: 0.36, P=0.006; DFS: 0.42, P=0.016). RNA ISH is more sensitive than DNA ISH in detecting HPV in OSCC, and it correlates strongly with p16. Although both tests were comparable, p16 more strongly stratified patient outcomes.